5 Ways the Gators Can Stop Louisville's Bridgewater
When Will Muschamp and Dan Quinn concoct a game plan for the Allstate Sugar Bowl against the Louisville Cardinals, priority No. 1 has to be stopping Teddy Bridgewater. The Miami native is just a sophomore, but he's already taken the Cardinals to new heights in his short collegiate career. After flashing big-time potential as a freshman, the 6'3", 218-pounder developed into one of the nation's premier signal-callers, throwing for 3,452 yards and a stellar 25-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Combating Bridgewater is one of the nation's toughest defenses, as Quinn's unit finished the regular season as the No. 3 scoring defense in the country. Bridgewater is easily one of the top quarterbacks the Gators will have faced all season, so let's take a look at the five best ways they can stop the Cardinals QB.
PLAY SOUND CONTAINMENT
Sometimes statistics don't tell the whole story, and in the case of Teddy Bridgewater, that holds true. With just 43 rushing yards and a single rushing touchdown, it wouldn't appear as though the Cardinals quarterback is a mobile threat. That couldn't be further from the truth.
Bridgewater is only credited with 43 rushing yards after subtracting 180 yards on 23 sacks, so his actual total is an impressive 223. Often playing through injuries, including a severely sprained ankle, Bridgewater still compiled some great numbers in leading the Cardinals to a Big East-best 10-2 record.
In order to prevent Bridgewater from taking over the game with his legs, Florida needs to play sound containment on defense. The Gators must count on Buck linebacker Lerentee McCray and defensive end Dominique Easley to hold the point of attack and maintain good gap discipline to keep Bridgewater in the pocket. If McCray, Easley and the rest of the Gators' host of talented defensive ends get too aggressive in rushing upfield, Bridgewater will take advantage and burn the Gators on the edge.
GENERATE INTERIOR PASS RUSH
By backing off a bit on the edge pressure, the Gators must wreak havoc up the middle. The easiest and most effective way to make Bridgewater's night a long one is to collapse the pocket and get in his face. So who will answer the call to complete this task?
Florida's menacing defensive tackle checks in at an athletic 6'3", 303 pounds and plays with great strength and power. Floyd harnessed his physical gifts to put together the best season of his three-year career, compiling 41 total tackles (11 for loss), one sack and six quarterback hurries.
Louisville's starting guards, John Miller and Jake Smith, can match Floyd size-wise, but lack experience and haven't faced a guy like Floyd. Both sophomores, as well as 287-pound center Mario Benavides, will have a tough matchup against Floyd, who must defeat double-team blocks and harass Bridgewater.
USE ANTONIO MORRISON AS A SPY
With Jelani Jenkins sidelined after undergoing surgery on his broken foot, the Gators should take advantage of his backup, Antonio Morrison, and use the speedy freshman as a spy on Bridgewater. Like Jenkins, Morrison is undersized (6'1", 218 lbs) but brings incredible speed and hitting ability to the table.
Pressed into action early in his career, Morrison responded to the call with 31 total tackles, including a sack.
Morrison should draw the start at weak-side linebacker, and Dan Quinn would best utilize the freshman's talent by having him play the spy on Bridgewater. Placing Morrison as the spy would keep Bridgewater honest in the pocket while allowing the Gators to match the dual-threat's athleticism pound-for-pound.
MIX UP COVERAGES
Florida has a glut of talent in its defensive backfield, and in stopping a big-time passer like Bridgewater, Dan Quinn would be wise to mix things up in the secondary. With a trio of starting-caliber corners in Jaylen Watkins, Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy, the Gators can employ various looks in their secondary. Having two smart, experienced safeties in Matt Elam and Josh Evans should also help the strategy pay off.
Roberson excels in man coverage and is the Gators' best pure cover corner. Watkins is also a skilled cover artist whose size (6'0", 187 lbs) and improving ball skills (three interceptions, eight passes defended) make him one of the SEC's best.
Purifoy is more of a playmaker and is better off in zone coverage where he can make plays on the ball. In facing a deep wide receiver corps, Florida needs to keep Bridgewater on his toes and play a mix of coverages. The more the Gators force Bridgewater to diagnose the defense and adjust, the better off they'll be in stopping the Cardinals QB.
ROTATE IN FRESH BODIES
Will Muschamp has never hesitated to let the young guns play, so if he hopes to stop Bridgewater, he'll need to call on freshmen Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard. The two pass-rushing phenoms made significant contributions in their first year at Florida, as Fowler racked up 27 tackles (6.5 for loss) and 2.5 sacks while Bullard totaled 26/5/1.5.
Fowler brings a better size-speed package than Bullard, who was247Sports' No. 2 strong-side defensive end of the 2012 recruiting class.
Dominique Easley and Lerentee McCray certainly deserve their share of snaps, but with both freshman playing so well and likely battling for starting spots next season, Florida needs to rotate the fresh bodies into the lineup in order to stop Teddy Bridgewater.
Stephen Sheehan is a Featured Columnist for the Bleacher Report. Click Here to read more of his work.