Dec. 29, 2012
NEW ORLEANS - One person who faces the daunting task of trying to figure out how maneuver the football against the tough Florida defense is Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, who met the media on Saturday morning in the first of the scheduled press conferences for the 2013 Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Watson and the Louisville offense faces a tough Florida defense that ranks in the top 15 nationally in a number of different categories.
"Well, you know, they play hard," said Watson. "Number one, they have great talent. All across the board, and they have depth besides talent. That tends to lead to success, because what they do schematically is very good. I know that they highlight players. They've got excellent players really in every level of the defense, first, second and third level. They can really rush four guys. They don't have to put a lot of pressure on you, because they're so good up front. They have lockdown people in the back end. Their safeties are good coverage players. Their linebackers can cover. They have every piece defensively you could ever want."
But, the Cardinals are pretty special on offense led by sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and an experienced offensive line. Bridgewater, the BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year, has had a remarkable year in his first full season as a starter. He has thrown for 3,452 yards and 25 touchdowns, but more importantly, is completing 69.0 percent of his throws.
"Teddy, from day one, he's been a great student of the game," said Watson. "His understanding of the game, his anticipation, because he does understand what we do conceptually. He gets it. He understands football. It goes slow for him. So that enables him to play. He's a great decision maker. He can create in and out of the pocket. He's the best football player I've ever coached. He's a very talented young man. And he's got great character to go along with it."
However, where Bridgewater really made his mark was Nov. 29 in a win over Rutgers. Breaking his wrist and suffering a severe ankle injury, no one knew if the sophomore sensation was healthy enough to play in what was the BIG EAST championship. Sitting out the first couple of series, Bridgewater came in and led the Cardinals to a 20-17 win over the Scarlet Knights.
"The Rutgers game is just kind of what we know of Teddy, what his habit has been around our facility," said Watson. "That's just who he is. He always gives it up for his teammates. He loves to play the game. There's no way he wasn't going to play in that Rutgers game. And real honestly he was playing on one leg and with one arm. And he went out and had a heck of a game. He just wills himself to great moments."
Bridgewater heads into the Sugar Bowl about as healthy as he can be after a grueling last six weeks. Still playing with a soft cast and a sprained ankle, the Cardinals are ready for their appearance on this grand stage. All the experts think there is a huge difference in talent between the two teams, but the Cardinals are looking forward to their opportunity.
"I think as far as talent goes, there's always going to be discrepancy," said senior Mario Benavides. "I think in college football in general, it's not high school. Every team has talent. I think what separates most programs are tradition, attitude, things like that. Things that maybe people overlook that maybe as a player you can appreciate those factors a little more. Obviously coaches; I think we have the best coaching staff in America. So as a player, you always have confidence in them. I think what it really comes down to is executing because our coaches put us in the right position. People may have the perception that Florida has more talent. That may be. You go by rivals, stars, ratings, whatever you want to say. But the bottom line is that anyone can win on any given Friday, Saturday, or in our case, Wednesday. I think that proves to you how fragile college football is."