Bigger Loss For Louisville: Charlie Strong Or Teddy Bridgewater?
By Jackson Wang
The Louisville football program has taken a huge blow in the last week. First, junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater declared for the NFL last Wednesday, and then on Monday, Charlie Strong was introduced as Texas Longhorns’ new head coach after Mark Brown stepped down last month.
Both Bridgewater and Strong have made big contributions to the Louisville football program with the Sugar Bowl win last year and then a Russell Athletic Bowl victory this season. In the three seasons Bridgewater and Strong were together, the Cardinals went 30-9 with two conference titles in the process.
Without a doubt, the Louisville football program wouldn’t have been as successful if it weren’t for Bridgewater and Strong. So who is the bigger loss?
The Case For Charlie Strong
Prior to becoming the head coach at Louisville, Strong was the defensive coordinator at Florida under Urban Meyer, where he won two national championships. Strong brought his defensive mindset to Louisville and turned around a team that was allowing opponents to gain 371 yards of offense per game in 2009, before Strong took over. That number fell to just 251 yards per game this season.
In 2009, the Cardinals, under Steve Kragthorpe, went 4-8 and failed to get a bowl game. Strong took over, getting the program to 7-6 and a bowl win in 2010. Then he posted another 7-6 record in his second season, but lost the Belk Bowl with first-year quarterback Bridgewater.
After developing Bridgewater, Louisville finally got the offense they were looking for as they posted 418 yards of offense per game in 2012, winning the Big East and earning a spot in the Sugar Bowl against Florida.
And with Strong facing his old team, he completely shut down the Gators offense (286 yards) as Louisville defeated Florida, 33-23.
Now let’s remember, this was a Big East defense shutting down an SEC offense. That’s almost unheard of, especially in a BCS bowl game where both teams were steps away from the national championship.
The Case For Teddy Bridgewater
It would be rude to not give Bridgewater credit because he absolutely lit up the Big East and then the AAC with his arm. He got the Louisville offense going after developing into the quarterback that Strong envisioned.
Bridgewater brought the Cardinal offense to a level that Adam Froman just couldn't touch. Before Bridgewater arrived on the Louisville campus, Froman, in his senior season, was able to muster up just 369 yards of offense per game. In Bridgewater's final season with the Cardinals, he had the Louisville offense running for over 460 yards of offense per game.
And that made a huge difference in the Strong's career at Louisville. In his first two year, Strong was 7-6 each season. In his last two years, he combined for 23-3 record and Bridgewater was the difference maker.
Bridgewater brought a dynamic passing attack that terrified opponents in the Big East and AAC. His ability to scramble gave receives time to get open and grab first downs. That keep the offense on the field and the defense resting.
There’s no doubt Bridgewater made an impact at Louisville, and his teammates, coaches, and fans certainly will miss it. But Strong leaving for the Texas job was a much bigger blow than Bridgewater heading to the NFL.
There’s no doubt Bridgewater made an impact at Louisville, and his teammates, coaches, and fans will certainly miss him. But Bridgewater wasn’t the one making the defensive stops in big games during his three years. It was the mind of Strong that got the ball back for Bridgewater and the Cardinal offense.
The old cliché is offense wins ball games, defense win championships. Bridgewater for sure won Louisville a lot of ball games, but it was Strong’s defense that gave the Cardinal the bowl victories.