Bridgewater steals show in Sugar Bowl against a veteran Gators team

By Adam Pincus

Bridgewater steals show in Sugar Bowl against a veteran Gators team

NEW ORLEANS— Linebacker Daniel Brown doused coach Charlie Strong with a cooler of yellow Gatorade as quarterback Teddy Bridgewater jumped with the winning football in hand once the clock hit triple zeros.

Chants of “Teddy” filled the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Confetti fell from the ceiling as Bridgewater reveled in the victory.

He arrived in New Orleans as a beloved figure in Louisville, but will leave The Big Easy as a Sugar Bowl most valuable player and an emerging superstar.

The sophomore quarterback from Miami, Fla., carried No. 22 Louisville (11-2, 5-2) to their first-ever BCS bowl victory and validated his coach’s decision to stay at the burgeoning program instead of taking over a higher-profile team.

Bridgewater dominated the nation’s fifth-ranked defense with 226 passing yards and two touchdowns.

Florida’s defenders, with supposed “Southeastern Conference” speed, looked a step too slow against Bridgewater and his receivers who hail from the maligned Big East.

A nearly flawless performance put the sophomore in the national spotlight.

“I wouldn’t be in this situation right now and this predicament without my teammates,” Bridgewater said. “The Heisman campaign may start, but I’m just enjoying this moment.”

No. 4 Florida (11-2, 7-2) already faced one Heisman winner in Johnny Manziel, but allowed the most passing yards Wednesday since giving up 236 yards to Missouri quarterback James Franklin on Nov. 3.

Although Bridgewater threw a harmless third-quarter interception, he took advantage of a soft secondary that couldn’t solve the quick passing attack.

“Of all the quarterbacks we played, he was the best one,” Gators defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. “He had the best accuracy. Manziel don’t compare to him.”

Louisville entered the game as a double-digit underdog. They lost to Connecticut and Syracuse earlier in the season and Bridgewater wasn’t 100 percent in New Orleans after dealing with a number of injuries throughout the year.

Yet, the quarterback who wears gloves on both hands and stores Bazooka bubble gum in his socks during games surprised the Gators with his complete performance.

“I didn’t think he was that good until he showed us different,” defensive tackle Dominique Easley said.

Bridgewater converted 9-for-14 third down opportunities, which include three of four from longer than 10 yards out. He went 7-for-11 passing on third down.

Florida, the nation’s 12th-ranked third-down defense at 31 percent, couldn’t get Bridgewater off the field.

Strong almost didn’t get the opportunity to coach this game-changing quarterback who already has 23 starts and a BCS bowl victory in his two-year career.

Bridgewater, a standout at football superpower Northwestern High School, was committed to the hometown Miami Hurricanes until he switched to Louisville following the firing of former Miami coach Randy Shannon.

He exhibited toughness and restraint against Florida, especially when linebacker Jon Bostic drilled him and knocked off his helmet in the first quarter.

“I give it all to Teddy Bridgewater,” Easley said. “He is a great quarterback. He knows how to execute and take control of his team. He broke us apart. That is what happened.”

The irony in Louisville’s victory isn’t the ineptitude of the Florida passing attack, but the poor outing from the Florida defense.

Redshirt senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter found a silver lining in a game with not much to cheer about for Florida.

“Defense didn’t execute the way we wanted it to, but this team will learn from it going forward next year and will be that much better because of it,” he said.

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