Bridgewater presents big problems for Kentucky defense

By Brian Rickerd, Published:

LEXINGTON – University of Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops hesitated when asked Monday if Louisville’s sublime quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, reminds him of any QB he’s ever seen.

“Yeah, that’s a great question,” Stoops said finally. “He’s just ... he’s darn good. You see a guy who’s very confident. I think if you watch the games, you can bring pressure, and he eludes it. He’s so fast and so patient. He doesn’t hurry anything. He plays fast without being in a hurry, if that makes sense.

“He’s very cool, and he’s got a very live arm. He can make any throw. You could just see the confidence in him the more he’s played.”

Bridgewater is Exhibit A of why UK’s game with the No. 7-ranked Louisville Cardinals is going to be such a challenge Saturday when those two teams hook up at Commonwealth Stadium. Kickoff is at noon on ESPN.

The Louisville quarterback came into this season rated one of the top two or three Heisman Trophy candidates and has done nothing to hurt his cause through routs of Ohio University and Eastern Kentucky. The 6-foot-3, 196-pound Bridgewater has completed 48 of 60 passes (80 percent) for 752 yards, with nine touchdowns and just one interception.

He should easily be the No. 1 quarterback picked in this spring’s NFL Draft, and could be the first player chosen overall. I see the U of L QB as a combination of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffith III.

“He’s just very good at what he does,” Stoops said. “He has a great feel in the pocket. He eludes pressure when and where he needs to, and the rest of the time he sits in there and distributes the football. He has a very, very good delivery and gets the ball there in a hurry.”

Bridgewater has the attention of the Wildcats, that’s for sure.

“He’s the No. 1 quarterback in the nation and will probably be the No. 1 quarterback in the draft this year,” said UK junior defensive end Bud Dupree. “We have to have a good week of practice to prepare for him and the things he can make happen.”

The obvious defense against Bridgewater is pressure. The problem with that is, as Stoops indicated, Bridgewater has the athleticism and 

instincts to work around that. Dupree said it’s imperative for defensive pressure to come both from the outside and the middle.

“If you don’t balance the rush, he’ll just run around you on the edge, or he’ll run through the middle,” Dupree said. “We have to stop both. We just have to come out ready to play. We have to have our DBs ready to stop the pass when that happens, and our D-line has to stop the run as much as possible.”

Ah, critics say, there lies the rub about Louisville so far  — the run game. Much was made of the Cardinals’ anemic run total of 78 yards Saturday in the 44-7 win over Eastern’s Colonels.

I caution you to note that the Cardinals still managed to scrape up 44 points. That on the heels of a 49-7 win Sept. 1 over Ohio.

“I realize they did hold both of their first two opponents to one touchdown, so obviously they are doing something right on defense,” said UK senior running back Jonathan George. “You look around and see they have guys flying around the ball and making plays.

“So we need to come out this week and have a focused week of practice and put extra emphasis on being disciplined and ready to play Saturday because I’m pretty sure those guys are going to be ready to play.”

Stoops said too much has been made of any possible weakness in Louisville’s run game. He suggested Eastern chose to pick their poison, and that was defending the run game, at the expense of the Cardinals’ passing attack.

“Some of it was by choice,” Stoops said. “And some of those throws were like runs to them in alignments and how they were playing them. Believe me, they can run the ball when they want to.

“That’s football. That’s good coaching. From both sides, you’re always trying to be strategic in where and when and how you’re playing things. But it’s a simple numbers game to them a good bit. So you get numbers, and they’re throwing it, and they’re taking easy throws in the bubbles and just different things to complement their run game.

“I think they do a nice job keeping you off balance. They threaten with their run game, and they love taking their shots and their play actions off of it because they’re very skilled at wide receiver. And Bridgewater does a heck of a job with the play fakes and getting the ball downfield. They put you in a pass/run conflict all the time.”

All this isn’t to say Kentucky has no business showing up. I get the feeling listening to Stoops that he simply doesn’t want fans to get so lost in the rivalry aspect that they lose sight of the big picture, which is continued improvement in his team, not just game by game, but season by season.

Stoops said his team must make rapid improvement in its execution to contend with the likes of the Cardinals; Florida Sept. 28; South Carolina Oct. 5; and Alabama Oct. 12 .

“Offensively, we’ve got to execute, execute and then get a big play,” Stoops said. “Defensively, we must be better than we were in week one, for instance, at the basics. That’s position on the football, tackling ... all the things we’ve talked about.”

When asked how important it could be for the Wildcats “to steal one” of these next four, Stoops replied this way:

“We don’t really look at it that way. Obviously, any win is important. Last week’s win was important. This is our next game, and that’s always our approach. It’s boring, but it is. We know this game is important, but we’re not going to approach it any differently. We will practice with urgency, and we will coach with urgency. But it’s the next game, and we’re looking to get better each and every day.”

Stoops also said there may still be lessons to be learned in that regard from the season opening 35-26 loss to Western Kentucky.

“We also learned from week one that maybe trying to get them hyped up and amped up maybe wasn’t the answer. We have to go about our business to prepare to win.”

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