Bridgewater hit his first nine passes and matched a career best with five touchdown throws as the Cardinals defeated Ohio 49-7 on Sunday.
Coming off an 11-2 finish and a Sugar Bowl upset of Florida, Bridgewater and the Cardinals dominated. That pleased a sellout crowd of 55,332 seeing them for the first time since that BCS win set off the school’s remarkable run of success that included an NCAA men’s basketball title, the women’s team’s runner-up NCAA finish and an appearance in College World Series.
Bridgewater kicked off his Heisman Trophy campaign by going 23-of-28 for 355 yards. Damian Copeland and Kai De La Cruz each caught two touchdowns and DeVante Parker and Robert Clark each had one.
Michael Dyer, the former Auburn star, debuted for Louisville and broke off a 46-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
The Cardinals outgained Ohio 615-273.
But it all started with Bridgewater.
“He studies the game and studies the receivers and he does a great job of checking and taking what the defense gives him,” Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. “It was just fun to watch Teddy. It’s just amazing how he keeps getting better and better.”
It was an impressive showing for a Louisville squad out to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke while starting this season with high expectations. The Cardinals began with their highest preseason ranking in school history and are favored to win the new American Athletic Conference that would earn another BCS bowl bid.
Bridgewater has drawn even more attention following a breakout sophomore season with 3,718 yards passing and 27 touchdowns. He certainly met expectations in his season debut, completing his first nine passes for 121 yards before Copeland dropped a catchable ball down the middle.
By then Louisville was up 14-0 after Bridgewater hit Copeland for touchdowns for 34 and 19 yards, helping the senior receiver match his 2012 total. The quarterback had a couple more drops and threw an interception, but was otherwise locked in and efficient in moving to fifth in program history for yardage and fourth in touchdown passes.
“I’m all about this team executing,” Bridgewater said. “At the end of the day, I play the game to build a relationship with guys in the locker room and to win games. As far as individual stats, I couldn’t care less. If I go 0-for-25, I just want to win the game.”
Like last season, Bridgewater involved many targets in the offense and found them wide open much of the day.
Parker was at least 10 yards past a defender when he caught a 27-yard pass for the Cardinals’ third TD in the second quarter. De La Cruz meanwhile had 20 clear yards in front of him after catching a Bridgewater pass for a 40-yard touchdown in finishing with team and career highs of 116 yards on four catches. Only Clark faced Ohio coverage before diving for his 25-yard score late in the third quarter.
Backup Will Gardner followed Bridgewater in the fourth but didn’t miss a beat, hitting De La Cruz for 30-yard touchdown for a 49-7 lead.
“It felt great,” said De La Cruz, a junior. “No greater feeling to show what I’ve been working on all summer and offseason training. ... It just felt very easy.”
Louisville had hiccups such as four false starts and a face mask penalty in the first quarter. A pass interference penalty late in the third quarter helped Ohio break the shutout as Ryan Boykin scored from 10 yards.
But those were the only mistakes on a day that the Cardinals cruised.
“They were hitting on all cylinders (Sunday),” Ohio coach Frank Solich said. “Bridgewater was precision-perfect on a lot of throws. At times, we made it a little easier than we should have made it for them as far as leaving receivers wide open. Still, their passing attack obviously was a great passing attack.”
Ohio’s hopes of following up last year’s season-opening upset of Penn State with another win over a BCS school were thoroughly dashed as the Bobcats found little to nothing against a fierce Cardinals defense.
Beau Blankenship, a 1,600-yard rusher last season, had just 22 yards on 12 carries and Tyler Tettleton completed 11 of 23 pass yards for only 140 yards and was briefly replaced by Derrius Vick in the first half. Ohio had the ball for just 22:44.
Cardinals defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin, briefly hospitalized last week after a vehicle hit the Moped he was riding, dressed and started on the right side. He was one of the first Cardinals charging on to the field.