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Louisville QB not your average freshman

MORGANTOWN -- Never mind the current state at the University of Miami or even where the University of Louisville may be perceived to be in the eyes of recruits across the country.

It's still not an easy thing for a premier prospect to leave his Miami high school and head somewhere else far from home.

Yet Teddy Bridgewater, arguably the top-rated dual threat quarterback in the recruiting class of 2011, declined the recruiting overtures from the hometown Hurricanes and picked the Cardinals.

He and his mother, Rose, did their homework and gave it pretty thorough thought, considering everything from playing time to the coaching staff to the history of the program.

"We looked at the quarterback tradition here," said the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Bridgewater, who starred at Northwestern High. "The biggest thing we knew about the quarterback tradition was Johnny Unitas. Coming out to the field and tapping his statue, knowing guys like Brian Brohm and Jeff Brohm played here, things like that mean a lot."

Bridgewater is on his way. He's made five starts and has led Louisville to back-to-back Big East wins for the first time since 2006. Louisville (4-4, 2-1 Big East) plays No. 25 WVU (6-2, 2-1) at noon Saturday. The Big East Network will televise the game from Mountaineer Field.

The Mountaineers believe Bridgewater plays and behaves far better than a normal freshman quarterback.

"You'll see," WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. "He's a talented guy. You can tell he handles himself really well. He doesn't panic with people around him. He doesn't panic in the pocket. He has the ability to escape the rush. He looks downfield when he wants to run it. He can make plays when he runs it and he looks to throw the football when he's running."

Bridgewater is 95-for-150 for 1,029 yards, seven touchdowns and six interceptions. He's been sacked 14 times and he's also just 2-3 as a starter, but in these past two wins, he's completed 27 of 42 pass attempts for three touchdowns and just one interception.

"He's gotten better," Casteel said. "You watch him and he gets better every week. He's more confident with the things they're asking him to do and he's getting used to his teammates. It's a big jump at that position.

"Really, any position in college football is a big jump for a true freshman, but for a true freshman, playing quarterback seems like the hardest job and he's handling it well."

The coaches are making things easier on Bridgewater. He's not being asked to win games and in the past two the Cardinals have run the ball with more success than at any other point this season. They've averaged 166 yards, which is more than they totaled in five of their first six games. The offensive line is healthy and has started the same five in back-to-back games.

Bridgewater passed 18 times against Rutgers and 24 times against Syracuse, the two fewest times he's thrown as a starter, and totaled just 320 yards.

"He's just managing the game and getting the right play when people blitz us," Louisville Coach Charlie Strong said. "He's doing a lot of the right things and that will continue to improve. It's going to come with more playing time.

"Each week is a totally different challenge for him. People don't run the same defense. People don't do the same things scheme-wise. They pose different problems for him. Right now it's more about studying the game and making sure on game day he's ready for the opposing team and whatever they do defensively."

Bridgewater takes his cues from Louisville's quarterbacks coach, Shawn Watson, who wanted Bridgewater to study film closely to learn as much as he could about the other team's defense.

"Then it becomes easy on the field, just knowing what guys are going to be doing before the ball is even snapped," Bridgewater said. "It plays a key role and that all comes from film."

Things were still unusual for a long time and even the different opponents would try some of the same things. Bridgewater said a lot of defenses tried to confuse him by walking defenders all over the field before having them settle into their assigned spots. Early on, things were hard and the offense struggled with Bridgewater spelling starter Will Stein.

After four games and a home loss to Marshall, Strong got rid of offensive coordinator Mike Sanford and replaced him with Watson. Strong and Bridgewater said the offense didn't change, but the applications did and the Cardinals have been better the past two games than they have been throughout the season.

"If you want any kind of continuity, you don't want to switch year-to-year, let alone game-to-game," WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "They're doing a lot of the same stuff, but they're probably just getting the guys on the same page with it all now."

The only change Watson wanted Bridgewater to make was to play faster and the Cardinals have started to bother opponents with their tempo on offense. Now, Bridgewater said he sees the defense wandering around before the snap, but for a different reason.

"They have guys scattering all over the field trying to cover guys," he said.

Bridgewater has discovered a pretty reliable way to speed up the offense. He makes the slowest parts work the fastest.

"It starts up front with the offensive line hustling to the line and getting their hands down it the dirt," Bridgewater said. "The team moves as fast as the quarterback, but Coach Strong always tells me I go as fast as the offensive line goes."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142.

 


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