UM Football

Disrupting Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is key for Miami in bowl game


Miami’s key against Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl figures to be its pass rush against unflappable quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Trying to fluster one of the nation’s most unflappable quarterbacks when you’ve struggled at times against the garden variety is like tackling the Rubik’s Cube when you haven’t quite mastered the jigsaw puzzle.

You realize the challenge. You study the challenge. But it’s nearly impossible to solve.

University of Louisville star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been sacked 22 times this season, twice as much as his Russell Athletic Bowl counterpart Stephen Morris of Miami. But after he gets up and wipes off the dust, Bridgewater still ends up clobbering his opponents.

“You’ve got to do whatever you can to disrupt him,’’ said junior defensive end Anthony Chickillo.

Good luck.

Bridgewater, a South Floridian who graduated from Miami Northwestern High in 2011, has 28 touchdown passes and only four interceptions this season. He ranks fifth nationally in passing efficiency and second in completion percentage (70.2). He goes through his “process,’’ as Miami coach Al Golden might say, as well as any quarterback in the game.

“He definitely does a great job of making decisions, that’s the first thing,’’ Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said. “Does a good job of getting the football where it’s supposed to go, does a good job of being patient as far as taking a checkdown or being able to escape — and he throws extremely well on the run.’’

The Cardinals (11-1), who represent the American Athletic Conference, have scored 421 points this season to their opponents’ 149.

They are ranked 29th in scoring offense (35.1 points per game), 80th in rushing offense (150.2 yards) and 18th in passing offense (302.9).

The Hurricanes (9-3), who represent the Atlantic Coast Conference, have scored 431 points to their opponents’ 312.

They are ranked 59th in scoring defense (26 points per game allowed), 81st in rushing defense (182.3 yards per game) and 71st in passing yards allowed (233.4). They have sacked the opposing quarterback 28 times, 15 more than in 2012 but still barely a factor when it comes to Bridgewater.

Louisville’s only loss, to Central Florida with 23 seconds left, can be attributed to a faulty defense — not Bridgewater.

“Yeah, we have to get pressure,’’ D’Onofrio said. “We’re improved this year. We went to 28 sacks. There are certain games where we had more pressure than others. From our standpoint, we’re looking for consistency.’’

The word “pressure’’ came up repeatedly when the Hurricanes were asked this week how to rattle Bridgewater. The Canes allowed Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston of Florida State to throw for 325 yards and two touchdowns in early November. Winston also threw two interceptions and was sacked once by safety A.J. Highsmith.

“You can always imagine getting sacks, but you have to go out there and perform,’’ said 6-3, 235-pound sophomore rush end Tyriq McCord, who has four sacks, two interceptions, one fumble recovery and three forced fumbles this season. “I’m doing a lot of film study about the strengths and weaknesses of their offensive line and then hopefully that moment can come for me. This is my first bowl game, the first bowl game for a lot of people, so we want to make a good statement.”

UM’s defensive backs will have to focus not just on Bridgewater but also on his talented receivers, such as 6-3 junior DeVante Parker, who has a career-high 46 receptions for 743 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Damian Copeland has a team-high 52 catches for 690 yards and five touchdowns. And Miamian Eli Rogers, who played with Bridgewater at Northwestern, has 498 yards and four touchdowns.

Highsmith said bringing down Bridgewater will be key.

“You have to give him difficult looks, things that are hard for them to pick up,’’ Highsmith said. “And when you get to Teddy, you have to do a good job of tackling him, because he makes a lot of guys miss when the pressure does get there.

“He’s very elusive in the pocket.’’

Hurricanes freshman cornerback Artie Burns was asked if he had an advantage playing against Bridgewater because they played together for one season in high school.

“No,’’ Burns answered. “He grew over the years, so I’m dissecting him on film and trying to figure out his tendencies.’’

So, how do you stop him?

“You just have to apply pressure,’’ he said.

Stay tuned.

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