Louisville's Bridgewater gets 'home' game at FIU
Teddy Bridgewater insists that this is no homecoming.
It's not like the quarterback for No. 20 Louisville is ignoring that his team will play in Miami - his hometown - when it visits FIU on Saturday night. He's not denying that the crowd will likely include plenty of friends and family, or that 21 of his Cardinal teammates also grew up in the South Florida region that spans Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
For Bridgewater, who is off to a flying start in his sophomore season, all that sounds like distractions in the making. So he's taking the simple route, saying all that matters to him is leading the Cardinals to their fourth straight win to open the season, even though this road trip is back to his home turf.
''I'm treating it like any other road game,'' Bridgewater said. ''And my main goal is just to go down there and play football. We're going down there to play a football game.''
As good as that sounds, there's no denying that there's tons of ties that bind these rosters.
It's no secret that Louisville coach Charlie Strong loves to recruit in the Miami area. FIU coach Mario Cristobal and Louisville recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt both played college football at nearby Miami, and both were on the Hurricanes' coaching staffs in recent years. There's even a brother vs. brother element - FIU running back Darian Mallary and Louisville cornerback Andrew Johnson are siblings, set to potentially collide on the field for the first time.
Oh, if more intrigue is needed, there's this: FIU went to Louisville last year and won 24-17, a loss that still stings the Cardinals.
''What is going to be critical at this time is we maintain our focus, we maintain our emotion and we are going to have to play with confidence and compete,'' said Strong, whose team is beginning a three-game road swing after starting the year with three games at home. ''Every second has to count. Last season, you look at FIU, and they came in here beat us.''
So this time, the Cardinals (3-0) plan to return the favor. And FIU (1-2) knows what happened last year will be on Louisville's mind come Saturday.
The Panthers' biggest problem in the early going has been on the defensive side, where they've allowed 46 points to Duke, 38 to Akron (FIU's lone win) and 33 to UCF so far this season. That's not sitting well with Cristobal, who is taking some consolation in that the Panthers have shown big improvement in the yards-allowed department in each of their past two games.
But against Louisville, they're going to be tested big-time. Bridgewater has been surgical to open the year, completing nearly 82 percent of his passes.
''He looks like a senior,'' Cristobal said. ''He plays and has the temperament of a senior. ... I think they mentioned in camp he completed 90 percent of his throws. Now when you say that, you've got realize out of that 10 percent, you'd imagine some were drops, some were throwaways not to take a sack. He has been extremely efficient, extremely accurate. Ball-placement for him has been exceptional.
''Watching him in high school, you felt it was going to be that at some point in time. He just got there rather quickly.''
If Cristobal had his way, Bridgewater would be playing a lot more in Miami - that is, eight miles away in Coral Gables, the home of the Hurricanes.
Bridgewater was once a Miami commitment, then opened his recruiting process up again when the Hurricanes fired Randy Shannon - a longtime friend of Bridgewater's family - at the conclusion of the 2010 regular season.
He eventually chose Louisville, though he had some initial reservations.
''I remember talking to Teddy for the first time and he said, `Am I going to see a bunch of horses?''' Strong said. ''I was like, `No, you are going to see a city.' We go on the outskirts, we will see some nice horse farms or go to Churchill Downs. ... It's just the mentality because they think Kentucky.''
And this weekend, they get to come back. Bridgewater said he played seven times - winning five - at FIU's stadium during his days at Miami Northwestern High, one of the area's most fabled programs. One of his favorite targets at Northwestern was Eli Rogers, also a one-time Miami commitment who now lines up for the Cardinals.
''We're trying to build a pipeline,'' Bridgewater said. ''We're trying to open the gates for guys down there to see the bright future they could have here.''
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