Louisville QB still learning on the job
MORGANTOWN - Geno Smith won't be the only highly recruited Miami-area quarterback on the field Saturday when West Virginia hosts Louisville.
In fact, Teddy Bridgewater may have been the more prized commodity of the two, albeit three years later.
He's also getting a chance to show what he can do sooner than did Smith, who spent a year as Jarrett Brown's apprentice after coming from Miramar High School.
So far it's hard to argue with Bridgewater's success.
"He's managing the game and getting us in the right plays when people are blitzing us, and he's making the throws,'' Louisville coach Charlie Strong said of the 6-foot-3, 205-pound true freshman from Miami Northwestern. "He's doing that and he will continue to improve with more playing time. Each week is a totally different challenge for him because people don't run the same defenses.
"It's about him studying the game and on game day being ready for what the opposing team may do defensively.''
That's where Smith has the edge. Having been in West Virginia's program for three years and now in his second season as the starter, Smith is putting up huge numbers in first-year coach Dana Holgorsen's system. He is averaging more than 40 passing attempts a game and throwing for almost 340 yards each time out. Smith has 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
Bridgewater has no such flashy numbers. Since assuming the starter's role for the fourth game of the season - a loss to Marshall - he is averaging about 26 passes and about 182 yards per game. Bridgewater has thrown seven touchdowns this season and six interceptions.
But until he becomes more comfortable with playing college football, throwing the ball a ton isn't what's expected of the former four-star recruit who was on the radar of Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Miami and others - including West Virginia - last fall. He chose Louisville, enrolled in January and was able to get a head start by going through spring practice.
Instead, Bridgewater is expected to run the Louisville offense and make as few mistakes as possible. For the past two games he has done just that.
After averaging 29 attempts during his first three starts, he has cut that down to 21 the last two games. And after Louisville lost his first three starts, the Cardinals have won two in a row, beating Rutgers and Syracuse.
It's probably no coincidence that Bridgewater's passing numbers are down and the team's win total is up, but it's been more than just his play.
"What's happening is our offensive line is doing a better job,'' Strong said. "The last two weeks we've had over a hundred yards rushing, which we had not [had in four of the previous five weeks]. We had a 100-yard rusher in Jeremy Wright [against Rutgers] and then Vic Anderson breaks a long run [61 yards for a touchdown against Syracuse].
"And the offensive line is protecting Teddy. We gave up no sacks in the Rutgers game. We gave up some [against Syracuse], but we're protecting him and giving him time to find receivers and throw the ball down the field.''
In a 27-10 win over Syracuse last week, Bridgewater completed his first seven passes for 124 yards and then finished 17-of-24 for 198 yards and two touchdowns. He didn't have to throw after Louisville jumped out to an early lead, so he didn't.
Bridgewater can throw the ball, though, when he has to. He passed for more than 6,700 yards in high school despite missing part of his senior season with a knee injury, and in his final high school game he threw for 436 yards and four touchdowns.
For now, though, both he and the rest of the Louisville offense are just feeling their way along. He's one of six freshmen who regularly see playing time for the Cardinals on offense - there are three freshmen starters on defense, as well - and they all are getting better each week.
Louisville is also dealing with a new offensive coordinator after Mike Sanford, the former UNLV coach, left the program during the season as was replaced by quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson. Strong had taken play-calling duties away from Sanford after the loss to Marshall.
Still, the scheme is the same, so Bridgewater and the others didn't have to deal with changing things in midstream.
"Our whole offense had to improve, not just Teddy but our offensive line, the running backs, wide receivers,'' Strong said. "And we weren't doing that. We weren't playing well there in the beginning. And now in the last few weeks we've gotten healthy on the offensive line, the running backs are running better and the wide receivers are making the plays. We have a young quarterback and people have to play better around him, and that's what's happening.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com.