LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- Four plays put a charge back into the University of Louisville football offense during Saturday's win at Pittsburgh, three deep throws that seemed to ignite the whole team.
On their first dry field in three weeks, the Cardinals looked to go deep early. Teddy Bridgewater overthrew DeVante Parker on his first deep try. But Parker was open. Bridgewater came to the sideline saying he'd taken too deep a drop. He misfired on another deep ball a bit later, this time not putting enough air under the throw, though U of L coach Charlie Strong thought Parker could've made a better adjustment on the ball and come up with it.
Whether complete or incomplete, Cardinal coaches were on the right track. In general, if they get the ball to No. 9, they will be fine. Parker hadn't really had a breakout game this season, though he'd had moments.
Saturday was that game.
The third time Bridgewater targeted Parker, the resulting completion established a deep rhythm that changed the game. Bridgewater found Parker on fourth down for a 27-yard completion, then opened the second half with a 75-yard strike TD to Parker. On the next drive, when Bridgewater found Eli Rogers with a sensational diving grab for 29 yards on third down, then followed it up with a 35-yarder to Parker on the next play, the Cardinals were fast-breaking to what would prove to be an insurmountable lead.
U of L's running backs and offensive line have been good all season, and carried the Cardinals in their past two wins. Senorise Perry keeps getting better, and Jeremy Wright is consistently good. But while the Cards rushed for five touchdowns Saturday (one of them a 59-yard breakaway by Perry late in the game), and U of L's ability to run the ball in the red zone has been one of the most important (and underappreciated) elements of the offense, it was the vertical passing game that broke Saturday's game open for U of L.
And it is Bridgewater and the talented corps of receivers that could transform this team from one that slugs its way to a Big East title to one that could run off from the pack.
During the offseason, Watson's brand of offense was labeled West Coast, but they were quick to add, "with a vertical passing game."
The Cards have developed a core of outstanding young receivers. Rogers is versatile and has a special connection with Bridgewater. Damian Copeland is talented and relentless. Charles Gaines brings pure speed. Andrell Smith has good size and is a big play threat. And DeVante Parker, well, he's just dangerous.
When asked Saturday when he knew he was going to have a big play on the 75 yarder, he said, "It was just an out-go and Teddy just threw it up there. We (Parker and the cornerback) were even, so I knew I had him."
Did you catch that? Let's follow up. "So when you're even when the defender you think you've got him?"
Bridgewater didn't even call them receivers Saturday. He called them "ball fetchers."
Parker wound up fetching four balls for 153 yards and a touchdown. It was the first time in five years a U of L receiver had totaled more than 150 yards in a game. That's a bit of a surprising stat for a program that likes to throw it, and has had a receiving corps that once upon a time called itself AFROS: "America's Finest Receivers on Saturday."
By the end of the game Saturday, Parker had climbed to No. 13 in the nation in yards per reception, at 21.3 yards per catch.
In a league not known for explosive offense, U of L's ability to strike deep could be what sets it apart. But it isn't the only team with that ability. Cincinnati once again has a dangerous offense, and wideout Travis Kelce ranks ahead of Parker at 22.2 yards per catch.
Now, as the opposition gets tougher, expect U of L to look to light its fuse with the longball even more often.
"If you watched us all year, our offense has been explosive all year and we've been able to throw the deep ball," Strong said. "Today we were just able to connect on them. Our wide receivers are very fast and very athletic."