Bridgewater stars in Louisville's bowl win

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Teddy Bridgewater never let on how badly he wanted to beat his hometown Miami Hurricanes in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Saturday night -- except for one little giveaway in pregame warmups.

Bridgewater danced and bopped to the music, and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson figured out what was to come.

Before every game, Watson watches the even-keeled Bridgewater to get a gauge on his demeanor. Bridgewater is at his best when he is most relaxed. And when he is most relaxed, he allows himself to get a bit of a groove on as he goes through his drills while the music plays.

“I knew he was going to play well,” Watson said.

Once the game kicked off, it became obvious how much Bridgewater wanted this one. So did his teammates, all of them in search of bragging rights over the more ballyhooed Miami program. Louisville exerted its will over the Canes, and Bridgewater carved them up with a precision many NFL quarterbacks do not possess.

In the end, No. 18 Louisville embarrassed Miami 36-9, racking up a second consecutive bowl victory over a power program in the state. Bridgewater authored this victory and the one last January over Florida in the Sugar Bowl, statement wins given not only how thoroughly Louisville dismantled both teams, but the dominance displayed at the quarterback position.

Bridgewater threw for a career-high 447 yards, scored four touchdowns and earned game MVP honors in what might have been his final college appearance. Watson called it the best game he has seen Bridgewater play. By far.

Bridgewater laced the ball into tight spots, evaded would-be tacklers to keep plays alive, threw perfectly on the run, hit short passes and long ones; he managed the game the way it needed to be managed. In short, Bridgewater proved why he is projected to be the No. 1 quarterback off the board if he decides to enter the NFL draft.

“He made some really, really excellent plays, just individual plays where it looked like we had him for a sack,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “He breaks the tackle and throws. There was a number of those plays. He’s an excellent quarterback.”

Meanwhile on the Miami side, Stephen Morris struggled to get his team going, finishing 12-of-27 for 160 yards and four sacks. The Hurricanes failed to convert a third-down attempt on 11 tries and scored less than 10 points in a bowl game for the first time since a 40-3 loss to LSU in the 2005 Peach Bowl.

The contrast between the players should not be lost on anyone, particularly Miami fans. Miami had Bridgewater in its grasp in 2010 after he committed early to the program.

But Randy Shannon was fired, and Bridgewater changed his mind. Louisville has flourished with Bridgewater under center, winning 23 games over the past two seasons. Miami, meanwhile, has struggled to regain its footing nationally and has had to live under a dark NCAA cloud over much of the same time period.

Would a quarterback like Bridgewater have changed Miami’s fortunes? We will never know. But there is little doubt Bridgewater is one of the best players in the country; he transforms into the best player in the country when there is extra motivation on the line. In this case, it was seeing Miami on the other side of the field, the team he grew up watching. The team he initially wanted to join.

Though he downplayed that storyline in the week leading up to the game, his emotions did get the best of him after he scored his final touchdown in the fourth quarter. Bridgewater flashed the “U” sign with his hands and then did a throat-slash gesture to the Miami bench. He later apologized during the postgame press conference, saying he was “out of line.”

But he did tell the crowd after being presented the MVP trophy on the field there was no greater feeling than seeing the fans of his hometown team headed to the exits early because of the lopsided score. Miami’s defense had not impressed anyone all year, but the group reached a new low once Bridgewater got going. Not even Heisman winner Jameis Winston threw for that many yards on the Hurricanes.

The Louisville fans chanted, "Teddy! Teddy!" throughout the entire game. Then they began chanting, "One more year!" after he gave his MVP trophy to his mother, Rose Murphy, in the stands. Bridgewater maintained he is not leaning one way or another when it comes to making a decision about the NFL.

“I’m not setting any type of date or time frame,” Bridgewater said. “[By] January 15 you have to make a decision, so I’m going to sit down, talk with my mom, talk with my coaches and talk to some of my mentors and just go from there. Right now, this moment is all about the team.”

The moment was all about Bridgewater, too.