Desmond Ridder loves playing against SMU.
The University of Cincinnati senior quarterback is 2-0 as a starter against the Mustangs and has had his most productive games against them.
"It's just something about the energy, something about the environment," Ridder said on facing SMU. "... We always talk about body blows and which team can take the most. This is a team that we feel like can sit there and take the punches. We just have to beat them now more than we have any other team."
Ridder threw for a career-high 352 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-20 overtime win at SMU as a freshman in 2018.
After an up-and-down start to his junior season, Ridder had a breakout game on national television against the Mustangs last October in Dallas.
Ridder completed 13 of 21 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown and ran for a career-high 179 yards and three more scores.
Ridder sprinted 91 yards for one of his touchdowns. It remains the longest rushing score in UC history.
"I won't say it was something about SMU, but it just might be something about SMU that makes me run a little bit more," Ridder said after the 42-13 win.
The performance and Ridder's play the rest of the season propelled the Louisville, Kentucky, native into the national spotlight and led to the 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander being one of the most talked-about players in college football entering this season.
Ridder will look to make it a perfect 3-for-3 against the Mustangs (8-2, 4-2 American Athletic Conference) on Saturday when he leads Cincinnati (10-0, 6-0) against them on senior day at Nippert Stadium.
With a win, the defending AAC champion Bearcats will earn a spot in the AAC championship game on Dec. 4.
3 keys to victory for the Bearcats
1. Play smart: UC is one of the smartest football teams in the country. The Bearcats placed a school-record six players on the Academic All-District First Team presented by the Collegiate Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).
No FBS team in the country had more honorees than the Bearcats, who tied for the most with Kentucky. The six honorees also double Cincinnati’s previous high of three set in 2006.
Honorees must have at least a 3.3 GPA.
Joining Ridder, who captured the honor for a second straight year, were senior wide receiver Alec Pierce, junior offensive lineman Lorenz Metz, senior linebacker Wilson Huber, senior safety Bryan Cook and junior cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner.
That intelligence in the classroom needs to show up on the field on Saturday against the No. 1-ranked offense in the AAC.
2. Score early and often: Led by Oklahoma transfer quarterback Tanner Mordecai, the reigning AAC Offensive Player of the Week, SMU ranks first in the conference in total offense (498.7), scoring offense (41.6), passing offense (329) and first downs (260).
Ridder and the Cincinnati offense can't afford to have empty possessions against a Mustangs defense that is allowing nearly 26 points per game.
3. Soak it up but don't drown in it: UC will honor more than 30 seniors, including Ridder, before kickoff. It will be an emotional day for the players, coach Luke Fickell and the packed house at Nippert. But once those pregame festivities are over, the Bearcats need to lock in.
A loss topples everything. But a win Saturday and another win next week at East Carolina would assure Cincinnati one more game at Nippert, as the Bearcats would host the AAC title game against Houston.
How to watch
Time: 3:30 p.m. on Saturday
Where: Nippert Stadium
TV: . Bob Wischusen (play-by-play), Dan Orlovsky (analyst) and Kris Budden (sideline) will have the call on ESPN.
Radio: Dan Hoard (play-by-play), Jim Kelly Jr. (analyst) and Mo Egger (host/engineer) will have the UC radio network call on WLW-AM (700), Sirius 108, XM 202 and Sirius App 965.
Live stream: ESPN+
Betting line: UC was a 11.5-point favorite 24 hours before kickoff.
Series history: Cincinnati leads 4-1, including wins in each of the last two meetings.
SMU can score in bunches. In fact, the Mustangs do it better than any other team in the AAC. But even with its relative struggles in recent weeks, the Cincinnati defense is still the best in the conference.
Something will have to give on Saturday. The stakes are far too high and Ridder and the rest of UC's seniors aren't going to lose to SMU on senior day.
Cincinnati again will make things interesting, but the defending AAC champion Bearcats will pull it out and earn another spot in the AAC championship game. UC wins, 37-24.