Saturday, November 25, 2017
Colleges

Sugar Bowl: Florida Gators wary of Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater

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NEW ORLEANS — Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson tried his best to answer the question without letting his emotions get the best of him, but ultimately it just wasn't possible.

The discussion was about sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and his gritty performance against Rutgers, and it caused the 30-year veteran coach to choke up as he talked about his rising star.

Playing with a sprained ankle, a fractured left wrist and what he described this week as "the worse pain ever," Bridgewater came off the bench and went 20-for-28 for 263 yards and two touchdowns to lead Louisville to a 20-17 come-from-behind win that earned the Cardinals their second BCS bowl berth.

"He's just done so much, and he really played his heart out," Watson said. "We went into that game thinking we weren't going to be able to play him. And there came a time when he just — I think it was our third series — he got on the headset and said: 'Coach, I can do this. I can go.'

"He gave it up for those guys because he knew the importance of that game. It was going to put us into this situation we're in today. That's just the kid he is. He has great character. That's what people don't know about him. And I just appreciate him. I do."

Bridgewater's performance all season is what has the Gators' attention. Florida has faced outstanding quarterbacks this year: Georgia's Aaron Murray, South Carolina's Connor Shaw, Missouri's James Franklin and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Yet, several Florida players said this week that this will be their greatest challenge.

"I feel like hands down he's the best quarterback we've faced this year," junior safety Matt Elam said. "He can move around, he can throw the ball. … He rarely makes bad decisions."

And that, Bridgewater said, is what separates him from many college quarterbacks.

"It comes easy because I'm not the kind of guy who's going to force anything; I just take what the defense gives me," said Bridgewater, the Big East offensive player of the year. "If my primary progression isn't there, I check it down. And that's what it's all about: completions and managing. If they give me nothing, then I'll just have to burn the ball or tuck it and run."

Bridgewater ranks eighth in Division I-A in passing efficiency (161.6) and has thrown for 3,452 yards and 25 touchdowns this season. His teammates say his success is a product of his dedication and hard work, not just pure talent.

"I could tell Teddy was special when he came in as a freshman," junior receiver Damian Copeland said. "He wasn't an ordinary freshman. He was like an upperclassman. He stayed in the film room and he stayed in his playbook. He read coverages very well."

Bridgewater could easily have been on the other sideline in Wednesday night's Sugar Bowl. The Miami native grew up a Florida fan and was recruited by the Gators. He nearly committed to Florida as a wide receiver, he said, and did commit to Miami before former coach Randy Shannon was fired.

Louisville coach Charlie Strong convinced him Louisville was the place for him. And he has no regrets.

"Some coaches just sell the program, but these coaches here, they sell you dreams about life," Bridgewater said. "They want you to be successful in life, not just as an athlete. And that right there caught my eye and caught my mom's eye. Pretty much, I prayed about it and it was a tough decision leaving home, but it was worth it."

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