Louisville's offense shook off a sluggish start at Kentucky, snapping out of its early funk and scoring 24 points in four (full) possessions to beat its in-state rival by 14. That's the good news.
The bad news is that it needed to.
With a schedule as soft as the Cardinals', both the team as a whole and its star quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, cannot afford to have an off week. Or even an off half. They need to be better for longer.
Bridgewater in particular didn't live up to his billing in Week 3, struggling to stretch the field and finishing the game 16-of-28 for 250 yards. The stats are good enough, and Bridgewater didn't play poorly, but he also didn't stick out as the best player in college football. And fair or not, if he wants to win the Heisman from the American Athletic Conference, that's exactly how he must look in every game.
Louisville's offense was marked by a lack of early confidence—a stark contrast to how it looked in Weeks 1 and 2. The Cardinals, who played intrepid, vertical football against two lesser opponents, came out running tired, horizontal routes that rarely tested Kentucky's deep third.
It was like Charlie Strong took notes on USC's game plan against Washington State, saw some things he liked, and decided to implement new wrinkles.
If the Wildcats had an elite (or even a very good) defense, much of this would be forgivable. But they don't, and this isn't, especially given the way Western Kentucky's quarterback, Brandon Doughty, ripped them apart for a 90.5 QBR in Week 1.
In simple terms, Saturday was a bad time for Bridgewater to have a slow game. The cache of playing against the SEC, even if it's "just Kentucky," cannot be overstated. Teddy's Heisman campaign was kickstarted in the Sugar Bowl, when he toyed with the vaunted defense of Florida. That success defined his Heisman hype train, so it's only fitting that another SEC game would reverse it.
This was Bridgewater's point of reference against fellow Heisman competitors, and he squandered an opportunity to bolster that comparison. Kentucky is his mutual opponent with AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray, and if one (or, more likely, both) fares better against the Wildcats, it will not shine a good light on Bridgewater's season.
Louisville's offense finally found success in the late second quarter, marching 52 yards down the field and breaking a 3-3 tie. Bridgewater capped the drive with a jump-ball touchdown pass to Devante Parker (who made a leaping catch in double coverage), but before that, the team dialed up 10 consecutive rushing plays.
The offensive line and the running backs, not the Heisman-candidate quarterback, stoked Louisville's momentum.
When it's all said and done, the ends validate the means. Bridgewater led his team into a rivalry game, on the road, against an SEC team, and walked out with the victory. If he truly cares not about individual awards—as he claims is the case—that should be all that matters.
But if any part of him—even a tiny, insignificant one—cared about his Heisman campaign in any way, shape or form, Bridgewater cannot be happy with Saturday's result.
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