QB Bridgewater leads No. 25 Louisville's offense
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)
A year ago, he was reacting to situations and relying on instinct like any freshman. Mistakes were made and lessons learned, but Bridgewater had to digest things by the next series.
It was a season-long process that began with the third game of the year at Kentucky. Forced into action when injury knocked out starter Will Stein in the second quarter, Bridgewater played the seasoned role by throwing for two touchdowns in a Cardinals victory.
A Big East Conference title and bowl bid followed, and Bridgewater now starts the season Sunday leading No. 25 Louisville against visiting Kentucky, intent on showing the Wildcats how much he has improved since then.
''It's not different at all because last year I still prepared and struggled to prepare as if I was the starter and I was pushing Stein,'' said Bridgewater, who threw for 2,129 yards and 14 touchdowns and was named the Big East's top rookie .
''This year, Stein is pushing me, so it's no different. ... The biggest area (of improvement) is just managing the game. I'm realizing things, looking at the play clock, getting in and out of the huddle, playing at an up tempo.''
A product of Miami's Northwestern High School, the reserved Bridgewater is also cranking it up off the field. A web video of him and teammates Michaelee Harris and Eli Rogers singing a Temptations tune during karaoke at a campus restaurant last week has revealed an alter ego, though his rhythm and pitch have teammates urging him to stick to football.
There's nothing to worry about there, as Bridgewater has immersed himself in the game since Louisville finished 7-6. Offsetting impressive statistics such as his 64.5 percent completion rate and TD totals were 12 interceptions.
Though pass protection was an issue because of a mostly young offensive line - Bridgewater was sacked 33 times last season - the quarterback acknowledged many things he could have gone better. That led him to study lots of game tape and work with coaches this spring and summer to address the problem areas.
Sunday marks the first test as the Cardinals take aim at the outright conference title and a Bowl Championship Series game, but Coach Charlie Strong sees a more polished quarterback at ease with the system and himself.
''Now that he knows the offense, he's more comfortable with it and becoming more of a student of the game,'' Strong said. ''He's been more willing to be a voice. Last year, he didn't say (anything). He makes the checks and that's good for him because we're putting it on him where he has to do it.''
And that's mainly because Bridgewater has worked to break the game into smaller parts.
''It's slowed down a lot,'' he said. ''It started once I arrived, but being a young guy I just had to let everything go and just play ball.''
Bridgewater, whose longest completion was 58 yards in a loss against Cincinnati, wouldn't say if this progression would involve more deep passes. But it's not out of the question, considering Rogers caught that long ball while Harris had a 44-yarder.
And Kentucky certainly is prepared for anything from Bridgewater after he came in for Stein and didn't miss a beat last September in Lexington. He finished 10 of 18 for 106 yards and directed three scoring drives that buffered the Wildcats' comeback attempts.
Bridgewater ''probably would have played anyway, but we knocked (Stein) out ... and Teddy comes in,'' Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. ''That happens. He was destined to be their quarterback anyway last year. ... Maybe a little sooner than they wanted, but blessings come in disguises. We allowed that. That's to his credit but we allowed it. We have to play a lot better.''
Bridgewater feels the same way and is eager to prove that last season was just the start of his quest, which is getting the Cardinals to execute their multiple sets efficiently. If things unfold quickly as he and the coaches hope, chalk it up to the careful thought process he has used to make this dream come true.