In preparing for Louisville quarterback and Miami native Teddy Bridgewater, Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn summed up what the Gators will face on Jan. 2 in two words — “dangerous” and “problem.”
A sophomore from Miami Northwestern High, Bridgewater is a dual-threat quarterback who has shown the ability to hurt defenses with both his arm and his legs.
Helping lead the Cardinals to a 10-2 season and berth in the Sugar Bowl, Bridgewater ranks sixth nationally in completion percentage (69.0) while throwing for 3,452 yards and 25 touchdowns with just seven interceptions.
“With Louisville, the first thing that jumps out is their quarterback who can really make their team go,” Quinn said. “When you give a good quarterback time, and he’s an accurate thrower, they can make you look bad. … When he gets comfortable, he is a dangerous guy, and he’s a problem.”
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Bridgewater had offers from Florida, LSU, Miami, FIU, USF and Tennessee, but he chose to play college football in the state of Kentucky for coach Charlie Strong at Louisville.
He had two games with more than 400 yards passing this season and is one of just nine quarterbacks in the nation to have a quarterback rating better than 160.0, helping earn him Big East Offensive Player of the Year.
In Louisville’s final game of the regular season, Bridgewater came off the bench to rally the Cardinals to 20-17 win at Rutgers despite a broken wrist and ankle injury that prevented him from starting the game and taking a snap from under center. He threw two touchdown passes in the second half and finished 20 of 28 for 263 yards.
“He certainly earned our respect by being injured and coming back to play in a short week,” Quinn said. “You have respect for those kind of toughness moments that that guy certainly showed at the end of their regular season.”
Said Florida defensive tackle Omar Hunter: “That’s special. He’s a warrior. That shows he’s a tough football player. Playing the quarterback position and being able to do that stuff shows a lot about you, being tough.”
Quinn said Florida has been using backup Tyler Murphy as a Bridgewater clone in practice in an attempt to get the defense ready. But the Gators’ unit should be plenty prepared for a quarterback of Bridgewater’s style, having seen a similar dual-threat option every day in practice in Florida sophomore signal caller Jeff Driskel.
Florida has faced other quarterbacks this season with similar styles to Bridgewater, including South Carolina’s Connor Shaw, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Rodgers, Missouri’s James Franklin, Florida State’s EJ Manuel and Texas A&M redshirt freshman and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
Manziel lit up the Gators in the first half of their game on Sept. 8., as the Aggies took a 17-10 lead into halftime behind Manziel’s arm (23 of 30, 173 yards passing) and legs (17 rushes, 78 yards and a touchdown). But Florida figured Manziel out in the second half, holding Texas A&M to just 29 yards of total offense in the third quarter and zero second-half points.
According to Hunter, the key is to remain technically and mentally sound.
“You got to maintain your gaps when you’re rushing because [quarterbacks like Bridgewater] can break and make a long run,” he said. “For [defensive backs], they have to keep their eyes on their guys. You can’t be caught looking in the backfield because they can kill you with their arms.”
Florida has done that this season, using its success in the second half against Manziel and the Aggies as a template for shutting down similar threats. The Gators lead the nation in pass efficiency defense, and Shaw, Rodgers, Franklin and Manuel all struggled mightily against Florida, combining to throw seven interceptions with just two touchdowns. Manuel, Shaw, Manziel are all ranked in the top 15 nationally in completion percentage.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that safety Josh Evans was not fazed when talking about Bridgewater.
“What separates him is he’s pretty accurate,” Evans said. “Any time you’re going against a quarterback who is pretty accurate, you want to make sure you’re working on your fundamentals of the game.”