Dual threat: Louisville's Bridgewater a dangerous foe for Cats

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 30, 2012 

  • Coming on strong
    Louisville sophomore Teddy Bridgewater's statistics show his improvement as a starting quarterback last season.

    G     TD    Int.   YPG   Pct.
    1-6     4    5    118.2   62.9
    7-13   10   7   202.8   65.4

Before last season's game against Louisville, Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter thought Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was "pretty good."

A year later, after watching endless video of the sophomore, Minter has another opinion.

"Now, I know he's really good," Minter said this week. "He's the real deal."

If the Cardinals are ready to live up to their No. 25 national ranking, a first for them since 2007, they will do it behind the arm and the feet of Bridgewater, who threw for 2,129 yards and 14 touchdowns last season.

He also ran for four scores and earned Big East Rookie of the Year honors.

"He's a real dual threat," Minter said. "He can run because he's physically gifted, but, more importantly, he's a quarterback, which means his eyes stay downfield, and those are the most dangerous guys, that can stay alive."

In his coming-out party against Kentucky last season, Bridgewater threw for 106 yards and two touchdowns. He was a spark for the Cardinals' offense in the second half.

UK's players and coaches would like to keep him from being that again this season.

Game planning against the sophomore, who reportedly has gained 20-plus pounds of muscle in the off-season, is complicated.

It's nearly impossible to pressure him, UK Coach Joker Phillips said.

"He's been a guy that you don't ever see people getting pressure on him because of him not understanding protections or changing protections," Phillips said.

It's easy to say, "just flush him, then he'll run and you rally," Minter said, but it's much easier said than done.

"When a guy is trained to keep his eyes downfield, you've got to really, really plaster your guys back there and make him commit to running," he said.

UK is vulnerable in spots defensively, especially the secondary, which returned no starters from a year ago.

Louisville returns star sophomore Eli Rogers, who had 41 catches for 454 yards as well as DeVante Parker, whose 18 catches included a team-best six touchdowns.

Once the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Bridgewater gets moving, it's hard to corral him, UK senior defensive end Collins Ukwu said.

"He's quick," Ukwu said. "He's an elusive cat. We've got to find a way to contain him."

Kentucky hopes its strength is in its defensive line, which returns starters Ukwu and tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph as well as regular Taylor Wyndham. They want to keep the quarterback guessing on Sunday at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

They're going against a Louisville offensive line that has three sophomores (who all played significant minutes last season). The Cardinals allowed 41 sacks for 232 yards last season, ranking 110th out of 120 major-college teams in terms of protection.

"We'd like to think we can hold our own up front, match up physically, maybe better than we did last year at times," Minter said. "Our D-line's full-grown men. We expect them to play extremely well on Sunday."

Another bonus for Kentucky is that it has had a full year of play under Minter's system.

The players' improved knowledge of the system should allow Minter to get more creative with play calling.

That advanced knowledge also means the players will be better at concealing their coverages.

"The thing in year two is you can disguise them a little bit longer," Phillips said. "Before, it was like, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm supposed to blitz, I need to get closer to him' and now our guys can hold the blitz a little bit longer. You can't show your hand too soon and, in the past, we've shown our hand too soon."

They're hoping all of this will help slow Bridgewater, who only got better as last season progressed, helping Louisville win five of its last six regular-season games.

Despite the loss to North Carolina State in the Belk Bowl, Bridgewater was big, finishing with a career-high 274 yards passing.

"He's been a really good quarterback for them," Phillips said. "He's one of the top quarterbacks for them, not just in their league, but one of the top quarterbacks in the country."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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