LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A made-for-TV college football special Sunday afternoon brought Louisville a perfect storm of Sugar Bowl celebration, over-matched opponent and launching pad for a season of high(er) expectations.
That junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater launched a Heisman campaign in the process — unofficially, of course — was part of the show.
It was an impressive show, too, as Bridgewater threw for 355 yards and 5 touchdowns and No. 9 Louisville steadily and efficiently blew Ohio out of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, 49-7. From the first series, there was no question which was the dominant team and who was the best player.
“The thing Teddy does is he studies the game,” Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. “He tells receivers where they need to be. He does a great job checking at the line and taking what the defense gives him.”
Bridgewater completed his first 10 passes Sunday; the 11th was dropped and was actually one of his best throws of the day. He threw across the field confidently, zinged a 19-yarder to Damian Copeland’s back shoulder at the pylon on the second touchdown and though he generally had all day to throw, he rarely waited too long. On his one interception, Strong said he threw it where his intended receiver was supposed to be.
“I thought Bridgewater was precision perfect,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said. “He has great poise. He never gets frustrated, and he has a great arm. He is the total package.”
The word is out, though Bridgewater doesn’t necessarily love that part of it. A pretty strange thing, at least in this day and age, happened here last spring: Bridgewater went to Louisville officials and asked that the school not run a formal Heisman campaign.
What Bridgewater said last spring about the Heisman talk was “I don’t pay attention to it. I’m all about this team. I’m all about the team having success. I’m all about my teammates becoming better players. The Heisman isn’t a goal of mine. A team effort, a national championship, a BCS game – those are our goals.”
The school later confirmed that Bridgewater didn’t want “an individual Heisman campaign.”
That may not be up Touchdown Teddy (if recommendations are being accepted).
“I really can’t speak on that,” Bridgewater said after Sunday’s game.
Bridgewater was clearly better — more in command, more accurate — in the 2013 opener than he was last year, and last year he was pretty good, especially down the stretch. Going back to last Oct. 20, a span of nine games including Sunday’s blitzing of Ohio, Bridgewater has completed 68 percent of his passes for 2,655 yards and 23 touchdowns vs. just 6 interceptions.
He’s throwing rockets.
“I’ve polished up my game,” Bridgewater said. “Whether it’s making checks at the line or keeping myself protected, I’ve just worked on seeing things, trying to keep us moving.”
He can be Teddy Heisman if he can keep up the pace he set in the opener. Bridgewater recorded 28 total touchdowns last season, 27 passing; that’s way off the Heisman pace Johnny Manziel (26 passing TD, 21 rushing) set in winning the Heisman last year.
Upcoming on Louisville’s schedule: Eastern Kentucky, Kentucky, Florida International. Later: South Florida, UConn, Houston and Memphis. Bridgewater could put up some serious numbers, and they very well could be good enough to get a bunch of votes in the beauty contest that is the Heisman race. A ridiculously early guess would likely have Bridgewater and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (3 passing TDs, 2 running vs. Georgia) at the top of any list.
“We have a lot of weapons,” Strong said. “We can move the ball.”
There’s more at stake than just a trophy for Bridgewater, too. At least 15 NFL scouts were on hand Sunday. General managers will be stopping by once rosters are set, and maybe sooner than later. And probably both sooner and later.
By rule, NFL teams aren’t supposed to scout underclassmen. Kind of like Manziel isn’t supposed to take money for autographs.
Bridgewater may hate the attention, but the word is out. Big money awaits if he keeps this up, and the spotlight on Louisville will only grow with more wins and more individual performances like the one Bridgewater turned in Sunday. He has the team and the schedule to chase the Heisman, even if he doesn’t want to talk about it now.