Teddy Bridgewater was a back-up quarterback the last time the University of Louisville football team visited Kentucky.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – For Teddy Bridgewater, this is where it all began. He walked into Commonwealth Stadium two years ago as Will Stein's caddy. He walked out as the face of the University of Louisville football program.
On Saturday, Bridgewater returns to Kentucky for the final time.
How much has changed for Bridgewater and the Cardinals' Top 10 program?
Get out your pencil and paper. This is going to take some time. Before that game Bridgewater had thrown more interceptions (one) than touchdowns (none). Now the ratio is 50 touchdowns to 21 picks. Eddie George, a former Heisman Trophy winner, mentioned Bridgewater first on his Heisman Watch list at Yahoo! Sportsthis week.
Mike Sanford called the plays for the Cards two years ago. Now Bridgewater works with Shawn Watson, an offensive coordinator who considers Bridgewater a son.
Some were ready for The Teddy Bridgewater Show to begin that September. Others still wondered why the coaching staff had let Damarcus Smith of Seneca High School get away.
Kentucky had beaten Louisville one, two, three, four consecutive times – and the Wildcats were favored (by five points) to make it five in a row. On Saturday Bridgewater will try to go 3-0 against Kentucky, and U of L is favored by two touchdowns for the second consecutive season.
Don't try stirring the hype around Bridgewater. He does not like it any more than he likes a late shot to the ribs. It wasn't his approach on Sept. 17, 2011. It won't be his approach on Sept. 14, 2013.
"I'm still the same person," Bridgewater said. "I just have more knowledge of the game and I've got an understanding of our offense."
Kentucky has a history of making the Louisville quarterbacks squirm since this series resumed in 1994. Getting physical with the Cardinal quarterback is usually on the first line of the game plan.
They roughed up Dave Ragone in 2002 while delivering a 22-17 upset. They sacked Brian Brohm three times and intercepted him once in the 2007 upset at Commonwealth Stadium. Then there was the hit by Donte Rumph and Mikie Benton that knocked Stein out of the game on the fifth play of the second quarter two years ago.
Stein went down – and then went to the sidelines. When Stein finally got up, his shoulder was in no condition to throw a tight spiral.
"With the hit, he just laid on the ground," Bridgewater said. "He tried to get back up, but I was ready."
Ready? Sure. Effective? Not immediately.
Bridgewater's first pass fell incomplete. Leading only 7-3, Louisville punted after four more plays. The next series was better, but hardly spectacular. The Cards moved the ball 34 yards but were forced to punt. Bridgewater threw another incompletion. The first pass caught by one of his receivers was good for a robust three yards.
Then, on Bridgewater's third series, Louisville football changed. Bridgewater started throwing the football as if he had been born to throw the football. To Josh Bellamy for 10 yards. To Josh Chichester for five. To Michaelee Harris for four yards. To DeVante Parker for 25 yards and a touchdown.
By game's end Bridgewater had completed 10 of 18 throws for two touchdowns, and the Cards had wrapped their arms around the Governor's Cup. They have yet to let it go.
"I really don't remember much," Bridgewater said. "I try not to think about things in the past. Right now we're just going to look forward."
"He's very athletic, and he's very live," UK coach Mark Stoops said. "He's just very fast. He's very quick with everything he does. Very, very good delivery and gets the ball there in a hurry. Again, he eludes the pressure when he has to."
Everybody knows that. Everybody knows Bridgewater. Everybody knows that confusing Bridgewater will be critical to Kentucky's defensive game plan. But Bridgewater has rarely looked confused.
Bridgewater will have to elude pressure Saturday. Kentucky will come after him, the way the Wildcats came after Stein, Brohm, Ragone and the others. Just as Louisville will go after UK quarterbacks Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow. It is Rivalry Football 101.
"That's something I don't think about," Bridgewater said. "I just go out there and play the game."
It is the way that Teddy Bridgewater has always played the game – starting with his first trip to Commonwealth Stadium.