Monday, December 18, 2017
Colleges

Bridgewater turns focus to USF Bulls

For as long as Todd Chandler has known Teddy Bridgewater, the latter always has worn a glove on his passing hand.

"To see a quarterback come in and wear gloves, it was kind of weird," said Chandler, reared roughly 10 minutes from his old Northwestern High teammate in the bleak Miami neighborhood of Liberty City. "But he was doing his job."

Today, that glove is complemented by other distinct accessories, namely poise and unflappability. Bridgewater — Louisville's fringe Heisman candidate, future NFL employee and pro-style passer extraordinaire — never leaves the huddle without them.

But Chandler, now a USF defensive tackle, recalls when he did. He still can see Bridgewater breaking down. Teddy B wasn't always indomitable. To the contrary, he was inconsolable.

A mom's breast cancer diagnosis can do that.

"He'd just break down and start crying," Chandler recalled. "You could see it in practice; it was affecting him, it was affecting his play. And I remember some days, I'd go over and talk to him like, 'Man, it's going to be all right. Just pray, just keep your mind on God.' "

Rose Murphy, a former public school bus driver who raised Teddy and three other kids, ultimately beat cancer. And a dynamic blossomed in the younger of her two boys: As radiation surged through her body, resolve was forged in Teddy's psyche.

Today, hullabaloo mounts over how Louisville (6-1 overall, 2-1 American Athletic Conference) will respond after having its national title hopes dashed Friday by UCF.

Further, a world wonders about the potential distraction surrounding Cardinals assistant Clint Hurtt, who received and provided impermissible benefits while at Miami, according to the NCAA's ruling released Tuesday. Louisville said Hurtt will remain on the staff.

Will the Cardinals regroup or regress Saturday against USF? Will they come out flat or fired up? Chandler, for one, scoffs at the question. He knows one defeat isn't about to dispirit 20-year-old Theodore Bridgewater.

"The situation and the events that he was going through in high school, I know it built him as a man," Chandler said. "It put a drive in him that I felt like nobody can take away."

Translation: The Bulls (2-4, 2-0) will get an inspired Bridgewater at Raymond James Stadium. The Cardinals might be a bit disoriented, but their QB won't let them fall into disarray.

"Coach (Shawn) Watson (Louisville's offensive coordinator) always tells us the quarterback has to be the eye of the hurricane," Bridgewater said at the league media days this summer. "The smoothest and the calmest person on the field."

Bridgewater has 2,213 passing yards, 20 TDs, two interceptions and a 72 percent completion rate (154-for-214). Fourteen times, he has connected with nine receivers in a game. Four times, he has hit 10. In a loss in November at Syracuse, he found 11.

"One thing you know about him is, you just see he knows their system," Bulls offensive coordinator Walt Wells said. "There are times the clock's running down and he's just as calm as he can be. He gets the snap off and takes it where it needs to go."

Bulls coach Willie Taggart, who once had a daily front-row view of a young Andrew Luck while coaching running backs at Stanford, said Bridgewater reminds him of the Indianapolis Colts' franchise QB.

"I remember last year when I was at (Western Kentucky) and we played (Kentucky) and Louisville played them the week before, just calling (Cardinals) Coach (Charlie) Strong and being like, 'Man, you've got a special kid there, boy,' " Taggart said.

"Just very smart, can run the entire offense, can get their guys in and out of good and bad plays, and throws the deep ball very well. He's the real deal."

At the dawn of his freshman season, Bridgewater grew dejected over the stress fracture in his right index finger that limited his reps. Ultimately, Strong named Will Stein the starter entering 2011.

"It was hard having to take that setback, and I didn't really know how to handle it," Bridgewater said. "It was so far away from home. I didn't have my mom, I didn't have my family, and all I had was football."

Which is to say, the first semblance of college adversity ate at his fortitude. Like a cancer.

Fortunately for him, there was a survivor on his side. Rose's message, as recounted to ESPN.com: "If I hadn't gone through that and fought, I wouldn't be here to see you. If I fought, you are going to do the same thing. You never know what your outcome is going to be."

Three games into 2011, Bridgewater was summoned when Stein got hurt against Kentucky. He led the Cardinals to a 24-17 triumph.

He has been starting since. More than 8,000 passing yards, 20 victories and one Sugar Bowl MVP performance later, stability and steeliness befit him.

Like a glove.

"You can hit him in his mouth and he's going to get right back up," Taggart said. "That's demoralizing to a defense, when you can hit him and he'll get back up and make another play.

"He's unbelievable."

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