Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder and wide receiver Alec Pierce had a big opportunity to help their draft grades, and they seized it by leading the Bearcats to an impressive road win versus Notre Dame.
In the first quarter, Ridder threw a rope to Pierce on a deep curl to move the chains on a nice route and pass. Pierce could not get open against Kyle Hamilton at the end of the drive, and after dodging a sack, Ridder threw a pass short that he was fortunate didn't get picked off. After a Notre Dame interception, Ridder threw a one-yard touchdown to a wide open receiver in the back of the end zone.
Ridder continued to locate passes well in zone coverage, but late in the first half, he was lucky not to have thrown a pick-six in the flat when he telegraphed the throw, which barely sailed over the cornerback. Ridder took advantage of the break by lofting in a corner post to his receiver for a touchdown just before halftime.
To start the third quarter, Pierce ran a go route down the field to get separation from the cornerback, and he made a leaping grab over the free safety for a gain of 45 yards. To end the drive on a third-and-goal, Ridder made a bad decision, throwing a ball up for grabs to one receiver with three defenders surrounding him, and Ridder was lucky the ball fell incomplete.
Things got worse for Ridder when he held onto the ball too long and double clutched a throw before losing the ball on a strip-sack. He had the rush bearing down on him and made a bad decision.
Ridder bounced back to hook up with Pierce again on a go route down the sideline for another big play of about 45 yards. It was an impressive display of speed from Pierce to create two steps of separation on the cornerback to get wide open for Ridder to loft in the completion. The Bearcats missed another field goal, which squandered the yardage produced by Ridder and Pierce, but midway through the fourth quarter, Ridder moved coverage with his eyes to throw a strike to his tight end down the seam for a chunk gain. To end the drive, Ridder ran into the end zone from six yards out.
Ridder completed 19-of-32 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns passing. He rushed for another score and also lost a turnover. Overall, the Notre Dame game will help Ridder's draft grade, as he showed field vision to work through progressions with the ability to manipulate coverage with his eyes. Ridder used his feet to extend some plays and lofted in some accurate passes downfield. Leading his team to a tough road win over a good team will not be lost on pro evaluators, and this tape could help Ridder to rise give the weak quarterback class.
Pierce definitely helped himself versus Notre Dame by catching six passes for 144 yards. The 6-foot-3, 213-pounder has good size, and the question with big receivers is always whether they have the speed to create separation. Pierce did that against Notre Dame running past defenders and getting open on go routes that were a pure foot race. He showed good hands, concentration, and size downfield. This tape will really help his draft grade for the 2022 NFL Draft.
Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton entered the season as the consensus top safety prospect and a future first-round pick. Hamilton has only improved upon that in 2021, being tremendously helpful to the Fighting Irish in their tough wins over Florida State and Purdue. Hamilton had three interceptions in those games, made a lot of clutch tackles, and flew around the field showing his phenomenal skill set of size, speed and athleticism. Cincinnati, however, was Hamilton's worst game of the year - by his standards. It was still a solid performance for pro evaluators.
In the first quarter, Hamilton made his presence felt when he blitzed off the edge and leapt to bat down a pass. Hamilton also did a nice job in coverage covering up targets downfield, but late in the first half while in man coverage on a slot receiver, Hamilton got turned around with a mistimed jump, and that let a pass float by him for a touchdown. That was the one really bad play for Hamilton, but it only confirmed what was seen on his sophomore year tape, which is that Hamilton is not a slot corner who can play man coverage on slot receivers in the NFL.
Hamilton has been tremendous this season, dominating the competition. For the NFL, Hamilton is a well-rounded safety who can play free or strong safety, is able to play some man coverage, and has ball skills. He could be an impactful starter early in his NFL career. Hamilton looks like he is on track to be a pick in the top half of the first round next April in the 2022 NFL Draft.