Miami-Louisville Preview

Teddy Bridgewater’s likely foray into the NFL will be preceded

by a matchup with his hometown team – also the one to which he

originally committed.

It’s the precursor to a conference rivalry for Louisville.

Having missed out on a BCS bowl and the Heisman Trophy ceremony,

Bridgewater could end his college career with a win over Miami at

the Russell Athletic Bowl in the 18th-ranked Cardinals’ final game

before joining the Hurricanes in the ACC.

This matchup Saturday night in Orlando takes place a few hours

north of where Bridgewater became a high school star and a little

more than four months before he could become the No. 1 overall pick

in the draft.

He’s at least expected to go in the top 10, assuming he leaves

Louisville (11-1) as anticipated after a junior year which began

with Heisman expectations but failed to see him get a finalist

invite to New York. His chances in that race first took a hit Oct.

18 when the Cardinals suffered their only loss, 38-35 to a Central

Florida team which would claim the American Athletic Conference’s

BCS bid.

His Heisman hopes further tumbled in the final four games, not

recording one 300-yard passing day while totaling just five

touchdown passes.

Bridgewater still finished as the nation’s fifth-highest rated

passer, throwing for 3,523 yards with 28 TDs and four

interceptions, but couldn’t get back to a BCS bowl after leading

the Cardinals over Florida in last season’s Sugar.

“This is a very talented young man. He has great command on the

offense,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “… He has speed, good corps

of receivers, knows how to distribute the football, doesn’t make

many mistakes with the football, can move in the pocket. It’s going

to be a great challenge for our corners and safeties.”

Bridgewater now looks to spoil the return from a self-imposed

two-year bowl ban by a school he nearly attended. The Hurricanes

had a verbal commitment from the Miami native in the summer of

2010, but coach Randy Shannon was fired after a 7-6 season, and

Bridgewater headed to Louisville instead.

With Bridgewater among 23 Miami-area natives playing for the

Cardinals, senior defensive end Marcus Smith said they were

particularly excited by the news of going to Florida to face the

Hurricanes (9-3).

“When they found out, it was like ‘We’re playing back at home

again, we’re playing basically our teammates and the people that

they play in high school,'” said Smith, a Georgia native who is the

AAC defensive player of the year. “Feeling that with them is gonna

be a great one.”

Not long after the news Bridgewater ditched the program, Miami

implemented the bowl ban due to improper benefits from a booster,

so this game is the team’s first in the postseason since 2010.

Former assistant Clint Hurtt was implicated in the scandal and is

now on Louisville’s staff.

The Hurricanes will look to post their first double-digit

victory total since 2003.

“Our kids are excited, I think they’re grateful,” Golden said.

“They’ve been through a lot the past two years, and they have not

been able to have this opportunity.

“… They’re practicing with a purpose, they’re excited, and

clearly they have a really tough opponent coming up.”

Among the most excited is quarterback Stephen Morris, another

Miami native who threw for 2,868 yards and 21 TDs. Even before this

matchup was announced, Morris was intrigued by the possibility of

squaring off with Bridgewater.

“It’d be a great challenge and a great headline for a lot of

people,” Morris said. “Teddy’s a great quarterback. …. A lot of

people would focus on that, two quarterbacks from Miami going at

it.”

These teams will be going at it a lot. Louisville is leaving the

AAC to replace Maryland in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. Miami is in

the Coastal but will play the Cardinals next season.

“When we go play in the ACC next year, I think (the bowl) will

put our stamp on this season, and it will tell the world that we

can play with teams in the ACC and we can play with anybody,” Smith

said.

Smith finished second nationally with 12 1/2 sacks for a

Louisville defense which ranked second in the FBS overall (257.9

yards per game) and against the run (86.3).

Poor defense derailed the Hurricanes’ season. They were 7-0

before losing three straight, including Nov. 2 to top-ranked

Florida State, while allowing more than 40 points and 500 total

yards in each.

The offense took a big blow against the Seminoles with top

rusher Duke Johnson suffering a season-ending broken ankle, a

possible reason the Hurricanes are converting an ACC-worst 32.8

percent of third downs since the start of November. Louisville’s

defense holds opponents to 28.6 percent, second-best in the

country.

Miami leads this all-time series 9-1-1, though the Cardinals’

lone victory came in the most recent meeting – 31-7 in 2006.

“Two powerhouse programs going at it,” Cardinals wideout Eli

Rogers said, “that’s always a good game to watch.”