NEW ORLEANS — Too bad for Louisville that Texas A&M trademarked the surname “Football” for its quarterback early on.
Otherwise, everyone would know about Teddy Football by now.
As it is, Cardinals sophomore Teddy Bridgewater is getting plenty of attention for one of the most dramatic performances of the season — the kind they make movies about.
Suffering from a broken wrist on his non-throwing arm and a sore ankle that limited his mobility to the point that he couldn’t take snaps under center, Bridgewater wasn’t supposed to play Louisville’s regular-season finale against Rutgers. But with his team trailing 14-3, Bridgewater got on the headset with offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and said, “Coach, I can do this. I can go.”
And he did.
Bridgewater threw two touchdown passes in the second half as the Cardinals (10-2) rallied to win 20-17, giving them the Big East title and a berth against No. 4 Florida in Wednesday’s Sugar Bowl in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The only thing missing was Bridgewater’s linemen carrying him down the field between plays à la Marshall’s Byron Leftwich in the 2002 GMAC Bowl — coincidently against Louisville.
“If that had been what it took, we would have done it,” Cardinals senior center MarioBenavides said. “We were doing all we could to keep the pressure off him, but you could tell Teddy was in pain the way he was hobbling around.
“But he never made it known verbally. He just stood in there and did what he had to do.”
It was the kind of performance Louisville fans have come to expect from Bridgewater, who arrived last year from Northwestern High School in Miami as perhaps the most heralded recruit in school history. Rated the country’s No. 2 dual-threat quarterback by Rivals, Bridgewater originally committed to Miami, then was on the brink of coming to LSU before the Tigers turned their attention to Zach Mettenberger.
“It was a tough decision, and I prayed about it a lot,” Bridgewater said. “But when (LSU) asked me to delay my official visit because they were going out to Kansas to take a look at Mettenberger, I knew LSU wasn’t the school for me.”
Louisville definitely was.
Taking over as the starting quarterback four games into the season, Bridgewater was the Big East Newcomer of the Year, throwing for 2,129 yards and 14 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. This year, he has bettered those numbers to 3,452 yards and 25 TDs with seven interceptions. That’s good enough for eighth nationally in passing efficiency and for Bridgewater to be the Big East Player of the Year.
It didn’t happen by accident.
“Teddy, from Day One, has been a great student of the game — his understanding, his anticipation and understanding what we do conceptually,” Watson said. “He gets it. He understands football. He’s a great decision-maker who can create in and out of the pocket. He’s the best football player I’ve ever coached.”
Along the way, he has become a leader.
“Last year, Teddy was just a raw talent, but he wasn’t very vocal,” Benavides said. “After last season, I told him not to worry about speaking up. That’s part of his responsibility, and the other guys will respect you only when you start to say things a little more. I think he just wanted the guys to think that wasn’t some big-time recruit for us.”
Bridgewater remains modest about his impact.
“You don’t go out there and put an ‘S’ on your chest and a cape on your back,” he said. “You just to manage the game and take what they give you. I wouldn’t be the player I am today without these guys I have around me. It’s all about the team.”
But now Bridgewater and his teammates have a chance to make a national impact and, in the process, put himself in the conversation with a certain Texas A&M quarterback for the 2013 Heisman Trophy.
It will be a challenge. Florida (11-1) ranks No. 3 nationally in scoring defense and No. 5 in total defense. The Gators have given up only five passing TDs.
Against Florida, Mettenberger was 11 of 25 for 158 yards and an interception with no touchdowns.
Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, in his first collegiate start, burned the Gators in the first half of their game by going 16-for-20 for 141 yards, plus 41 rushing yards and a TD. But Florida clamped down on Manziel in the second half (32 passing yards, 19 rushing) and rallied for a 20-17 victory.
“The closest thing to Teddy Bridgewater we’ve faced would be Manziel,” Florida senior strong safety Matt Elam said. “There are a lot of things he can do, so it’s going to be a challenge for us.
“You’ve got to have a lot of discipline to play against a guy like him. If you’re not on the same page as your teammates, he can beat you in a split second.”
That’s why the Cardinals, who are 15-point underdogs, are pinning their upset hopes on Teddy Bridgewater.
Make that Teddy Football.