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Florida's defense has faced several dual-threat quarterbacks this season, including FSU's EJ Manuel.

Wednesday December 5, 2012Florida's Defense to Face Another Dual-Threat QB in Louisville's Bridgewater

Florida's defense has faced several dual-threat quarterbacks this season, including FSU's EJ Manuel.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – When it comes to facing dual-threat quarterbacks, Florida’s defense has earned a master’s degree this season.

Florida’s first test against a mobile quarterback came in the Southeastern Conference opener when Texas A&M Heisman hopeful Johnny Manziel drove the Aggies 65 yards on 15 plays on his opening series as a collegiate quarterback.

Manziel connected on 6 of 8 passes and ran twice for 19 yards on the scoring drive, offering a glimpse of Johnny Football before anyone had heard of him. The Gators made the necessary adjustments and left College Station a 20-17 winner after limiting the Aggies to 65 yards of offense in the second half.

Florida’s performance against Manziel looked more impressive each week as the Aggies’ redshirt freshman became a national sensation. It also prepared the Gators’ defense for what was to come.

The Gators prepared regularly for quarterbacks who could make things happen on the run, from Vanderbilt’s Zach Rodgers to South Carolina’s Connor Shaw to Georgia’s Aaron Murray to Missouri’s James Franklin to Louisiana’s Terrance Broadway and finally, to Florida State’s EJ Manuel.

Florida’s only loss was to Georgia despite preventing Murray (12-for-24, 150 yards, three interceptions) from taking over the game.

The trend of Florida facing dual-threat quarterbacks will continue in the Sugar Bowl, where Louisville's dynamic Teddy Bridgewater awaits.

Bridgewater starred at Miami Northwestern High before taking his talents to Derby City. The Cardinals earned only the second BCS bowl bid in school history on Thursday when Bridgewater led Louisville to a 20-17 win against Rutgers.

Bridgewater threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns despite playing with a broken wrist and a severely sprained ankle.

"That was a gutsy performance,'' Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "He's a guy who gets the ball in the right spot and is very accurate with the football. He's done a nice job for their football team.

"And he's a winner. He's won a lot of football games directing their offense."

Louisville coach Charlie Strong called Bridgewater's effort against Rutgers an "unbelievable performance." And that's saying something since Strong has watched Bridgewater lead the Cardinals to a 15-4 record when he plays.

Bridgewater has completed 69 percent of his passes for 3,452 yards, 25 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He can also tuck the ball and run. Bridgewater rushed for 223 yards but 180 of those were wiped out due to 23 sacks.

"I look at college football and I know there's some athletic quarterbacks out there but I think wherever the best one is, I think Teddy should be linked there with them," Strong said.

The biggest question mark surrounding Bridgewater is how healthy he will be for the Sugar Bowl. While he played through the injuries against Rutgers, Strong said Bridgewater needs to time off to heal.

"We've got to be smart on how we handle it, because we know his injuries and he'll need rest and how much rest it will depend on just our medical staff just telling us what we need to do with him day-to-day,'' Strong said. "You look at last week, we only had four days to prepare for Rutgers and we were able to get ready in four.

"We have enough weeks that we should be able to take our time. I know when we were preparing for Rutgers it was around the clock. We don't have to be around the clock because of the preparation we'll be able to have, but also we need to get Teddy healthy, especially facing an outstanding team like Florida."

Bridgewater is ranked seventh in the country with a passer rating of 161.6 and has ample weapons as five Cardinals caught 30 or more passes this season.

While the Cardinals' offense is dangerous, so is Florida's defense. The Gators ranked fifth nationally in total defense (283.4 yards per game) and first overall in pass efficiency defense.

Muschamp said Florida's past tests should help in preparing for Bridgewater.

"You play a little bit more zone and you have your eyes on the ball a little bit more and you try to fill in the rush lanes,'' Muschamp said. "You have to stay disciplined when you are rushing the passer against guys like him that are able to pull it down and hurt you running, as well."

 

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