Louisville preview: Character, ability to lead set QB Teddy Bridgewater apart

jtipton@herald-leader.comAugust 26, 2012 

  • Scouting report

    Coach: Charlie Strong (14-12 in two seasons at U of L)

    Last season: 7-6 overall, and 5-2 in the Big East, which tied for first place; lost 31-24 to North Carolina State in the Belk Bowl

    Returning starters: 12 (six on offense, six on defense)

    Outlook: An injury to starter Will Stein made then-freshman Teddy Bridgewater last season's starting quarterback by necessity. That accelerated development for the highly touted player should help Bridgewater and U of L this season. Four starters on the offensive line return, which suggests better pass protection and a more productive offense (averages of 21.9 points and 333 yards per game last season). LT Alex Kupper, LG John Miller, C Mario Benavides and RG Jake Smith are the veteran linemen. U of L must replace leading rusher Victor Anderson (539 yards). Leading the way is one-time quarterback Dominique Brown (533 yards) and one-time cornerback Senorise Perry. Sophomore wide receiver DeVante Parker caught six touchdown passes as a freshman last season. On defense, Louisville expects good things. All four starters in the secondary return, led by safety Calvin Pryor, who logged 43 tackles as a true freshman. Cornerbacks Adrian Bushell and Andrew Johnson suggest the Cards can play more man-to-man coverage, freeing teammates to apply more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Louisville, which played 11 true freshmen last season, remains relatively young.

    Question marks: Louisville will be burdened with expectations after playing last season with house money. Louisville was picked to finish seventh in the Big East last season. Now, the Cards are the favorites. Besides the usual questions about depth that get attached to most teams, Louisville has to replace place-kicker Chris Philpott and punter Josh Bleser. Redshirt freshman John Wallace (Central Hardin) made a 52-yard field goal in the spring game.

    Game of the year: If all goes according to form, pre-season favorites Louisville and Rutgers will play for the Big East championship on Nov. 29. To add to the atmosphere, ESPN will televise the Thursday night game.

    Jerry Tipton

  • Players to watch

    Center Mario Benavides: Three-year starter anchors the offensive line. He's started 34 of the last 38 games and reigns as the undisputed leader of the offensive line. He speaks passionately of the need to protect quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

    Linebacker Preston Brown: He's the returning leading tackler (84) and gets billed as the "prototypical linebacker" in Charlie Strong's defensive system. He moves from the outside to middle linebacker this season.

    Cornerback Adrian Bushell: He made 50 tackles and intercepted a pass last season, and also had a 100-yard kickoff return against Connecticut. Bushell was named Big East Special Teams Player of the Week on Nov. 7 and Nov. 21.

    Safety Hakeem Smith: A two-year starter at safety, he tied Brown for second-most tackles on the team last season with 84. He was named first team All-Big East.

    Wide receiver DeVante Parker: As a freshman last season, he showed flashes of the big-play capability expected when he came out of Ballard High. His 18 catches included six for touchdowns. He averaged 16.2 yards per catch.

    Jerry Tipton

  • Schedule

    Date Opponent Time

    Sept. 2 KENTUCKY 3:30 p.m.

    Sept. 8 MISSOURI STATE 3:30 p.m.

    Sept. 15 NORTH CAROLINA3:30 p.m.

    Sept. 22 at Fla. International 7 p.m.

    Sept. 29 at So. Mississippi 8 p.m.

    Oct. 13 at Pittsburgh TBA


    Oct. 26 CINCINNATI 8 p.m.

    Nov. 3 TEMPLE TBA

    Nov. 10 at Syracuse TBA


    Nov. 29 at Rutgers 7:30 p.m.

When he learned that his mother had breast cancer, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater decided to give up football. He wanted to be his mother's support system and live-in nurse. He was 15.

"Just trying to be a provider for my family and my mother," he said after a U of L practice this month. "I wanted to be the man of the house because there was no man in the household at the time."

The youngest of Rose Murphy's four children, and the only child still living at home, Bridgewater had limited options as a provider. A smile at the memory of his naivete revealed the braces that make him appear not much older than 15 even now.

"It was very tough to give up the game you love," Bridgewater said. "At the same time, it wasn't too challenging to give it up for the person you love."

Murphy convinced her son to continue playing football.

"It didn't take much persuasion after I sat him down and talked to him," she recalled. "'Don't worry about me. You don't worry about anything. God gave you a gift. You have to use it to the best of your ability. I am fine.'"

That was true, except for the being fine part. In July, 2007, doctors removed a lemon-size tumor in a breast and nine lymph nodes in hopes of removing the Stage 3 cancer.

"I was just freakin' out, period, when they did the surgery," Murphy said. "I wouldn't let them remove the whole breast. I just couldn't look at myself without a breast."

Despite the anxiety, Murphy maintained a brave can-do attitude with her family and co-workers.

"I'd say, 'I'm a miracle in progress,'" she said.

Chemotherapy and radiation followed the surgery. She continues what she called a "10-year treatment plan" that includes prescription medication.

Meanwhile, Bridgewater developed into a dual-threat quarterback for Northwestern High in Miami. Rivals.com ranked him the second-best quarterback prospect in the nation. He seemed destined to play for the University of Miami. Then that school fired its coach, Randy Shannon, who had attended high school in Miami with Bridgewater's mother and aunts.

"It was a huge factor" in reopening the recruiting process, Bridgewater said of Miami firing Shannon.

U of L Coach Charlie Strong and associate coach Clint Hurtt, the latter having once been Miami's recruiting coordinator, made the Hurricanes' loss Louisville's gain.

Bridgewater's U of L career got off to an interesting start last season. Murray State intercepted his one and only pass in the 2011 opening game.

"My most humble experience," he called it. "It brought me back down to Earth. The moment I came into the game, the crowd was chanting my name. You go to feeling good about yourself. If you don't remain humble, that's when things go wrong.

"As a freshman, you just want to throw it around, throw it around the ballpark. You realize it's not all about going out there and throwing for this amount of yards. It's all about managing the game."

Shawn Watson, then U of L's quarterbacks coach and now its offensive coordinator, downplayed the notion of the interception being significant. A wide receiver ran the wrong route on a third-and-long play, he said.

"An easy one to live through," Watson said.

Louisville's 24-17 victory at Kentucky in last season's third game served as Bridgewater's coming-out party. With starter Will Stein sidelined because of a shoulder injury, Bridgewater completed 10 of 18 passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Thus began a season in which he threw for 2,129 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Big East named him its Rookie of the Year.

"He played very poised," Watson said of Bridgewater's tone-setting performance at UK. "Not getting unraveled or shaken."

Watson cited Bridgewater's "natural instinct" for football, a strong work ethic, character and poise. The coordinator also noted the impression made when Bridgewater met NFL quarterback Cam Newton during U of L's time in Charlotte, N.C., for the Dec. 27 Belk Bowl.

"'OK, that's what they look like,'" Watson figured Bridgewater thought upon meeting Newton. "'I got a long way to go.'"

Bridgewater has added about 40 pounds since last season.

"He's twice the player he was a year ago in terms of knowledge and understanding," Watson said.

Murphy, who attended each Louisville home game last season, expects to be in Cardinal Stadium for this year's opener. In Watson's view, she and other fans will see a special player.

The U of L coordinator then tried to define "special" in regard to Bridgewater.

"Everyone thinks it's going to be a 'quarterback answer' like strong arm," Watson said. "The thing that is special about Teddy is his character. He puts everybody else ahead of himself. He exemplifies the servant leadership you need."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227 Twitter: @JerryTipton Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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