NEW ORLEANS (WDRB) -- You can't lay out a game plan much more clearly than University of Louisville coach Charlie Strong did it one day before his Cardinals will face Florida in the AllState Sugar Bowl.
"Our game plan is all about Teddy," Strong said.
It's not exactly revealing any secrets. Cardinals' sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, in fact, has been the central feature of both teams' game preparations for the Sugar Bowl.
Florida safety Matt Elam called Bridgewater, "hands down the best quarterback we will face this season."
That would include Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M.
"Playing against a good quarterback like Teddy makes you lock in a little more and makes you focus a little more," Elam said.
Florida coach Will Muschamp said, "He's by far the leader of their football team."
There could be worse strategies for U of L than putting the game into Bridgewater's hands against a group ranked No. 5 nationally in total defense and No. 3 in scoring defense.
Before leaving Louisville for the first Sugar Bowl practices in New Orleans, U of L offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said, "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."
For Bridgewater, that means making quick reads against a defense that will be looking to hit him early to prevent him from getting a rhythm.
U of L's West Coast passing game gives Bridgewater great flexibility at the line, choosing run plays, blocking schemes and protections. This game, against this level of defense, will put even more into his hands and onto his instincts. Watson, in talking about the offensive game plan, has stressed the importance of longer, sustained drives, "just moving the chains," he said.
That doesn't mean U of L will abandon deeper looks, but it might mean the Cards work to establish possession and a short passing game first.
As for throwing so much onto a sophomore in his first full season of this system, Watson said he has no reservations.
"We put a lot on him," Watson said. ". . . But he's had to make a lot of decisions in every aspect of the game all season. He gets us in the right play at the line of scrimmage many times. He fixes our protection at the line. Plus then he's making pass decisions and he's a coach on the field. And it's been remarkable for me because most of the time I've been doing this, 30 years, and coaching this position 20 of those 30, I've never had a guy who could do so much so early."
Bridgewater will have plenty to keep his eye on with the Florida defense. Elam will be one key. Florida likes to bring him all the way up the line of scrimmage. He's an effective blitzer from his safety spot, but is good enough in coverage to be a nickel back.
The other concern for Bridgewater will be defensive end Shariff Floyd.
"We totally count on (Floyd) in all our packages to be a real force in terms of affecting the quarterback," Muschamp said. "And with us playing Louisville, their quarterback is as accurate as there is. We know the importance of getting the guy off the spot and getting hits to him and affecting him. That's something we totally believe in defensively and how important it is."
Bridgewater has been working this week with various devices on his left wrist -- you can call them hard braces or soft casts. He has shown little effects of a sprained ankle, though when making pitches while running to his left he was conspicuous in his use of his right hand, which isn't the natural way of making such a play, indicating that there's still some issue with his wrist. Bridgewater wouldn't put a percentage on how far back he is, but said it doesn't matter.
"I feel great," he said. "I can't put a percentage on it right now, but I feel great. I've been running really well in practice so it won't be much of a factor. It's not bothering me at all."
Strong said, "Teddy's healthy now. If (Will) Stein has to come in and play, we'll use him. But right now it's on Teddy. . . . I'm not saying he's 100 percent, but he's going to be better than he was in the Rutgers game."
When asked about Elam implying that Bridgwater is better than Johnny Manziel, Muschamp said, "That's the respect we have for Teddy. We think he's a really good football player. The films speak for themselves. Guy threw for over 3,000 yards, 28 touchdown throws and only six interceptions, makes great decisions with the ball. I think he's very accurate with the football because he creates a lot of vertical throws."
If there's more riding on Bridgewater this week, there's been no indication by his demeanor. But he has acknowledged that he's facing a new level of challenge.
"They are very physical," Bridgewater said. "They have a great front seven. The closet team to them (that U of L has played) would be Rutgers, but we really haven't faced a team like them."
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