When Gators coach Will Muschamp began preparing for Louisville in early December, Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater caught his eye.
Muschamp saw Bridgewater play high school football in Miami and believed the key to containing Louisville’s offense was stopping Bridewater.
A few weeks have passed, but Muschamp’s admiration for Louisville’s sophomore quarterback has not. If anything, Florida’s second-year coach has gained respect for Bridgewater as the Gators coaching staff has devoured game film of Louisville.
“To me,” Muschamp said, “it all starts with Teddy Bridgewater. The guy is an outstanding player. He is the No. 1 efficiency passer in the country throwing for over 3,000 yards, close to 30 touchdowns, and he is completing right at 70 percent of his passes.”
Though technically Bridgewater has completed 69 percent of his passes, Muschamp’s respect for the opposing quarterback is well warranted.
Bridgewater threw for 3,452 yards and 25 touchdowns this season, compared with just seven interceptions. He did so — at least part of the season — while dealing with a broken left wrist and a sprained right ankle that affected his ability to move around in the pocket.
Prior to leading Louisville to a victory over Rutgers — a win that propelled the Cardinals into the Sugar Bowl — Bridgewater’s availability was in question.
Louisville coach Charlie Strong admitted he was unsure how close Bridgewater was to being 100 percent. Bridgewater was monitored leading up to the game but was effective enough to help win the game.
While Muschamp and his staff have been busy looking to create a game plan to slow Bridgewater and the Louisville offense, Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel has been busy focusing on his own improvement and attempting to help lead a Florida offense that underwhelmed many times during 2012.
Though Driskel didn’t see any film on Bridgewater during the past couple of weeks, he is familiar with what the Miami native is capable of doing.
“I know [Bridgewater] from high school,” Driskel said. “I know he’s a good player, and we’re going to have to play well to stop him.”
Relationship still Strong?
Louisville coach Charlie Strong has spent the better half of the past 10 seasons at Florida in some capacity. He has been defensive coordinator, helped with linebackers and even spent a short time as interim coach.
However, Muschamp said he doesn’t believe Strong’s relationship with the Florida program will be helpful in preparing for the Gators.
“It’s been three years since he was here,” Muschamp said. “Obviously, recruiting players helps him build relationships, but it’s been a long time since he was here.”
Muschamp identified senior linebacker Jon Bostic as a player Strong helped bring to Florida but said Bostic has changed “a lot as a player” since Strong was last in the orange and blue.
Bostic chose not to delve into whether Strong will have any advantage from having relationships with some of the current holdovers on Florida’s roster. He did, however, speak glowingly of his former coach.
“A lot of coaches try to sell the program when they are recruiting,” Bostic said. “He really wanted to form a relationship with me and be more than just a coach. I knew wherever Charlie went he was going to have success.”
Speaking of former Gators
Louisville cornerback Adrian Bushell, who transferred to the Cardinals after appearing in 14 games in his career for the Gators, is a defensive player that has grabbed the attention of Driskel and Florida’s offense.
“Bushell has like 12 pass break-ups this year, which is insane,” Driskel said. “We’re going to have to get open, and we’re going to have to make clean throws against these guys, so we’re excited for the challenge.”
Louisville defensive end Marcus Smith — owner of 28 tackles (six for loss) and three sacks on the season — is a player Muschamp identified as someone the Florida offensive line must look to slow to have success offensively.
Smith’s 28 tackles are eighth on the team, while Bushell has 59, which is good for fourth.
“Smith is an explosive rusher and a guy they use a lot of different way,” Muschamp said. “Charlie’s track record as a defensive coordinator speaks for itself.”
On the other side of the ball, Muschamp praised receivers Deon Rogers, DeVante Parker and Damian Copeland. Copeland led the team with 48 receptions on the season, though it was Parker who did the heavy damage, finishing with 38 catches for 712 yards and a team-leading nine touchdowns.
Each is an asset made that much more dangerous because of Bridgewater’s talents.
“They have a very talented corps of receivers,” Muschamp said. “Those guys are all talented guys that can do some different things.”