No. 7 Louisville, QB taking advantage WR corps
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)
The Heisman Trophy candidate already had veterans DeVante Parker, Damian Copeland, Eli Rogers and tight end Ryan Hubbell to throw, but Bridgewater has blended junior Kai De La Cruz and transfers Robert Clark and Gerald Christian into the mix.
The quarterback has thrown for 752 yards, nine touchdowns and a 76.7% completion rate in leading the Cardinals' 2-0 start. Louisville's newest contributors have combined for four TDs and 280 yards.
The additional options could present problems for Kentucky (1-1) in Saturday's rivalry game.
''I felt like in the spring that we were helping and contributing and whatever happens in practice would transfer to the game,'' said Christian, who caught five passes for 74 yards including an 11-yard touchdown in Saturday's 44-7 win over Eastern Kentucky.
''Not saying I was going to catch three touchdowns, but I felt like I would be able to contribute, being on the field.''
Clark, Christian's friend since childhood who transferred with him to Louisville from Florida, certainly thought the tight end could have a big game after his own debut in the opener against Ohio.
The 5-foot-9 junior had four receptions for 43 yards including a 25-yarder for his first career TD against Ohio. Clark added 24 yards on four catches against EKU and is just one reception behind team co-leaders Parker and Copeland.
''At first I was thinking with so many good receivers here, how is everybody going to get catches,'' Clark said. ''But Teddy does a great job to spread it out to everybody.''
As for Christian's big game, Clark noted, ''I was just thinking it was his turn. My time came and gone, and I was just happy for him.''
Louisville's De La Cruz establish his offensive presence in the Cardinals opener after returning punts last season. The receiver, who changed his surname from Dominguez to his father's before this season, ended with a team-high 114 yards on four catches with two TDs including a 40-yarder.
De La Cruz's production has backed up the praise Louisville coaches lavished on him in fall camp. Even on a unit featuring deep-threat Parker (207 yards, 3 TDs), Copeland (130 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Rogers (134 yards), the 6-foot, 186-pound De La Cruz was someone the coaches believed could be just as explosive as his teammates.
De La Cruz agreed, especially after learning the playbook with help from fellow receivers and Bridgewater.
''My talent's always been there and my athleticism too, so all I really needed was the playbook, which helped me tremendously,'' said De La Cruz, who has five receptions for 128 yards. ''They've always treated me the same, not as the new guy. But Andrell Smith and the older guys told me last year that I'm too talented and just to keep in it, don't give up. Basically, all I've done is stay on the right path.''
Although De La Cruz, Clark and Christian have worked their way onto the field, they're still amazed by Bridgewater's ability to consistently work everybody into the strategy. Of course, it helps that the quarterback has been sacked just once this season and often has plenty of time to scour the field for choices.
Most important to Bridgewater is having the targets just where they're designed to be.
''Those guys just do a great job of playing to detail,'' he said. ''We have pictures in our books of how the routes are supposed to look, but you turn on the tape and those guys have run their routes just like the drawings.''
Despite two impressive performances statistically, Bridgewater and his receivers note that the Cardinals have room to grow. The quarterback lamented not getting a touchdown for Rogers against EKU and took responsibility for some incompletions despite hitting 23 of 32 attempts for 397 yards.
That provides more incentive for all the Cardinals' receivers to run precise routes on Saturday against Kentucky in Lexington. Bridgewater certainly enjoys having more choices.
Said Clark, ''if you're in the spot you're supposed to be, he's gonna put it on you.''