As Kentucky prepares to host the No. 7 ranked Cardinals Saturday, the Cats know they will have their hands full stopping Louisville’s star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater
Through two games Bridgewater has completed 48-of-60 passes for 752 yards, nine touchdowns and just one interception.
“He's just very good at what he does. He has a great feel in the pocket. He eludes the pressure when and where he needs to, and the rest of the time he sits in there and distributes the football,” UK head coach Mark Stoop said. “But he's very athletic, and he's very live. He's just very fast. He's very quick with everything he does. Very, very good delivery and gets the ball there in a hurry. Again, he eludes the pressure when he has to.”
But with a running attack that features former BCS Championship game MVP Michael Dyer, the Cardinals offense is more than just Bridgewater.
“They're good. They're physical. Their O‑line is good. That's what – you know, you start watching their team in depth, they're good across the board, they really are,” Stoops said. “I think they do a nice job of keeping you off balance. They run it. They threaten you with their run game, and they love taking their shots and their play actions off 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 down the field.
“That's always – from a defensive coach through all the years – and I get all the defensive questions as I've been a defensive coordinator – always the teams that threaten you are balanced,” he added. “You know, the teams that can pound it and run the ball and have a physicality about them, and then they're skilled outside, can throw the ball and distribute the ball down the field as well. So that's what they do. They put you in a run/pass conflict all the time. Again, they're good at what they do.
“I see them very balanced and very talented. … When they make you account for the run game, it opens things up.”
UK defensive end Bud Dupree said the defense is well aware of both how good Bridgewater and the Cardinals balanced offense.
“He’s pretty good. He’s the No. 1 quarterback in the nation. Probably gonna go the No. 1 quarterback in the draft this year,” Dupree said of Bridgewater. “We just got to have a good week of practice and preparation, preparing for him and the things that he can make happen, because you know, good quarterbacks make big plays happen for teams like that.
“We’ve got to stop both (the run and the pass). We got to come out just ready to play. Got to have our DBs ready to stop the pass when it happens and the D-line, we got to get together, stop the run and allow (as few) rushing yards as possible. Just got to emphasize both of those parts.”
What challenges does a mobile quarterback like Bridgewater present to the defense’s pass rush?
“It definitely changes, because if you don’t balance the rush, he only will just run around you on the edges or run through the middle and the inside,” Dupree said. “If the inside guys don’t get pressure, he’s just going to run through the middle, because the two ends are gonna come around and force him inside. And if the two ends don’t get outside pressure, he’s gonna just run around them, too. So you just got to have a good game plan.”
But Louisville isn’t the only offense in the game capable of scoring the ball. Kentucky put up 675 yards of offense Saturday, the third highest in school history.
"We're going to go into an environment where the offense just had over 650 yards total offense, 400 yards passing and 260 yards rushing," Louisville coach Strong said at his weekly press conference today, according to Louisville’s 247Sports site. "It's a very balanced offense, very up-tempo and can create issues if you don't get lined up and can't handle the speed. That's going to be critical for us on defense.
"They're on the ball quickly and they run a lot of plays and they try to put pressure on the defense," Strong said. "They want to try to wear you out and wear you down."
"The challenge is you have two different quarterbacks with two different styles," Strong said. "Smith is more of a thrower and Whitlow is an athlete who can run and throw the football. They change them up and in the last game Smith started and then Whitlow came in. So you have two quarterbacks who can create some issues for you if you don't get aligned.
"Really their scheme doesn't change but when Whitlow's at quarterback they will run him with the ball, different than they do with Smith," Strong said. "But you still have to get lineup and make sure defensively we're in the right gaps. We just have to get aligned and it doesn't matter who is playing quarterback. The offense doesn't change it's just the one run game for (Whitlow)."
Strong said he thinks Kentucky’s defense is “very aggressive.”
"You look at their front four with Cobble, Smith, Rumph and Dupree and they have an all-conference player in Williamson at linebacker,” Strong said. “They're very aggressive and can create a lot of issues for us."
To do that, the Cats’ defense will have to limit Bridgewater, who Stoops said is both fast and patient.
“He doesn't hurry anything. He plays fast without being in a hurry, if that makes sense,” Stoops said. “He's very cool, and he's got a very live arm and he can make any throw. You could just see the confidence in him the more he's played. They're a very veteran team, though. Again, I've talked about that in here, and I think he'll tell you the same thing. They’re very good all around him, and they have a strong line. They have great backs. They have good wide receivers – I mean, great wide receivers. So they really are. They're very talented across the board.”