ORLANDO -- The chant from the red-clad multitude behind the Louisville sideline could be heard as early as the second quarter.
“One more year!”
If Saturday night truly was Teddy Bridgewater’s final collegiate game, though, consider Louisville’s 36-9 Russell Athletic Bowl romp a command performance for both NFL scouts and the fan base he leaves behind.
And, perhaps wistfully, for the Miami hometown that saw what became of the one who got away.
If Bridgewater’s career-best 447 yards and three touchdowns passing weren’t enough, his 1-yard TD run early in the final quarter provided the exclamation point.
Facing fourth-and-goal, Bridgewater rolled to his right, put on a burst and dashed across the goal line in front of three UM defenders. Then as a teammate lifted him off the ground near the Louisville’s sideline, the former Northwestern standout put his hands together in the “U” symbol — then criss-crossed his arms in the incomplete-pass signal.
It would be hard to ask for a better farewell script than that. In a sense, it would almost be a shame to waste it by coming back for a senior season.
Louisville fans, of course, might opt to disagree.
“Right now, I have a lot of time [to consider the NFL],” Bridgewater said after being named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Unfazed after being dropped for a safety on Louisville’s second offensive snap, Bridgewater led the Cardinals to scores on seven of their next eight possessions. He topped the 400-yard mark for the first time this season and just the third time in his career.
“We just had to take what they gave us,” Bridgewater said. “But it wasn’t only me. I’ve said all year long that I have the best wide receivers in the country.”
Bridgewater completed 35 of 45 passes, and the numbers could have been even more scintillating. Four of his incompletions came on drops by his receivers, and Devante Parker came down with a nice sideline reception out of bounds in the third quarter.
The signature play, though, might have come with time winding down in the first half. Facing third-and-6 from the Cardinals’ 44, Bridgewater rolled to his left, reversed direction and turned the corner near the right sideline before firing a strike to Damian Copeland for 21 yards and a first down.
Three plays later, Bridgewater found former Northwestern mate Michaelee Harris in stride for a 13-yard TD strike just 30 seconds before halftime that gave the Cardinals a 22-2 cushion.
Bridgewater’s three TD passes gave him 31 for the season, breaking the school record set by Brian Brohm in 2007. He now stands 27-7 as a starter, matching Dave Ragone for the most wins in school history.
“Teddy’s been an amazing presence since he been here,” Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. “I love the way he controls our offense out there. He’s just an outstanding football player.”
All that’s left is to consider whether to put his name in the NFL Draft.
ESPN’s Todd McShay has projected Bridgewater to be the No. 1 pick in his “Mock Draft 1.0” published Thursday on the network’s website. Though he ranks as the ninth-best prospect overall, the Houston Texans would have to consider a quarterback if they have the top pick.
Bridgewater has said from the outset that he will take some time to make a decision, sitting down with his mom and other family members to weigh his options.
“I feel that I’m ready, but I also feel that I’m not. That can go either way,” he told reporters who swarmed around him last Monday in Orlando. “You always have an area to improve on. After this game, I’ll evaluate everything.”
Then again, a bigger hint may have come from a Twitter post he sent before the Cardinals departed for Orlando.
“Sacrificed a lot of personal glory for the people around,” he tweeted, “because I’ve always been apart [cq] of something much bigger than myself. It’s my time.”