LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- Teddy Bridgewater's cast came off Monday, and the University of Louisville sophomore quarterback who led the Cardinals to a BCS-clinching victory over Rutgers with a fractured wrist is close to full speed in preparations for the Jan. 2 Allstate Sugar Bowl matchup against Florida in New Orleans.
U of L offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said that Bridgewater will be able to take snaps under center when U of L faces the Gators, and that's a big deal. Bridgewater was unable to take direct snaps in the Cards' regular-season finale against Rutgers, lining up in the shotgun for every down he played and causing no small amount of adjustments to the staff's play-calling preferences, particularly in the play-action game.
Today, Watson said Bridgewater looked as comfortable on the field as he has looked since before injuring the wrist and his ankle in a triple-overtime loss to Connecticut.
"He's back to being himself," Watson said. "He's moving around real well with his ankle. His hand is good. Today he got out of the cast so today we actually ball-handled. So that was the big thing we were waiting for."
Watson described U of L's offensive effort against Rutgers as "smoke and mirrors."
"We had to manage a lot of stuff in that game. We had to make it look like we were doing things that we really couldn't do," Watson said. ". . . Having (Bridgewater) under center is huge for us. Play-action is a big deal for us, and the run game. Because when he's under center the run can go strong or weak, and that's a big thing people forget. . . . At Rutgers Teddy's basically in the pocket and couldn't do anything outside it. We made it look like we were going to, but never did. He could not move in that game. He could take a three- and a five-step drop and get a little lateral movement. But that's the best he could do."
In fact, Watson said Bridgewater used a majority of three-step drops to help the Cards' running game and to protect him with quicker-release type plays.
Now facing a Florida defense that is one of the best and most-talented in the nation, the challenge for Bridgewater shifts from getting by to trying to get any kind of yardage.
"A lot of our players want to play pro ball," Watson said. "Well, guess what? You're getting ready to see those types of players."
Beyond that, however, Watson said he expected U of L to encounter an NFL-type of game, where running yards were at a premium and a three- or four-yard run actually would be considered a productive effort.
"They're a very good defense," Watson said. "It'll be like a pro ball game. It'll be one of those games where you'll take your two-, three- and four yard runs and hope to crack one occasionally. And we'll use the passing game to help us with the run and play off that play-action. That's the kind of games they (Florida) get into. They are a rushing team by nature, great special teams and field position. That defense is the key to their success, so we've got to do our job."
Watson said the offensive coaches spent considerable time self-scouting after the Rutgers win, not looking at the offense with a game plan in mind but with the goal of addressing issues. The biggest, of course, were the problems in the running game.
"We were rushing the ball really well up to the Syracuse game, and we've lost that edge and we've got to get it back," Watson said. "It was easy once we got in there and saw what we were doing. When a coach can get away from things and not have to worry about game planning and get his thoughts around it -- we saw that we've got to be better on our backside blocking pattern. We're targeted really well on the front side and our backside (blocking on the side away from the direction the ball is going) has to get better. So that's been our emphasis in practices."
Against a Florida defense that will be by far the best U of L has seen this season, Watson said there will be adjustments for everybody, from receivers to line to running backs. He said Corvin Lamb is back to full speed after having a bad ankle the last several weeks of the season, and looks like the track star he was when he arrived.
But in the end, a great deal will again fall on the shoulders of Bridgewater, now that his ankle and wrist are healing.
"He just needs to throw on time, be on time, be decisive, play the foundations of our plays," Watson said. "We have alerts in our offense, things available to him to attack different coverages or spots, but if he's in doubt we have our foundations that he can go to and that's a real simple read that will pull him and us out of it. That's where he's been really good and grown as a player. He just needs to be himself."
Fortunately for the Cards, Bridgewater looked more like himself on Monday than he has since suffering his wrist injury. Watson said the same is true for the rest of the offense, after showing some rust through finals week.
"We're looking more like ourselves," Watson said. "It's going to be a fun challenge."
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