NEW ORLEANS— Linebacker Daniel Brown doused coach Charlie Strong with a cooler of yellow Gatorade.
Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater held the game ball above his head as the clock hit zero.
Chants of “Ted-dy” filled the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Confetti fell from the ceiling as Bridgewater reveled in the victory.
He arrived in New Orleans as a beloved figure among Cardinals fans, but left as the Sugar Bowl MVP and an emerging superstar.
The sophomore quarterback from Miami carried No. 22 Louisville (11-2, 5-2 Big East) to its second-ever BCS bowl victory and validated his coach’s decision to stay at the burgeoning program instead of taking over a higher-profile team.
Bridgewater dominated the nation’s fifth-ranked defense with 266 passing yards and two touchdowns.
Florida’s defense, arguably the best unit in the Southeastern Conference, failed to match Bridgewater and his Big East receivers.
A nearly flawless performance put the sophomore in the national spotlight.
“I wouldn’t be in this situation right now ... without my teammates,” Bridgewater said. “The Heisman campaign may start, but I’m just enjoying this moment.”
No. 4 Florida (11-2, 7-1 SEC) already faced Heisman Trophy winner in Johnny Manziel, before allowing a season-high 266 passing yards to Bridgewater on Wednesday. The previous best was 236 yards by Missouri quarterback James Franklin on Nov. 3.
Despite throwing a third-quarter interception, Bridgewater took advantage of a secondary that couldn’t solve the Cardinals’ quick passing attack.
“Of all the quarterbacks we played, he was the best,” Gators defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. “He had the best accuracy. Manziel don’t compare to him.”
Louisville entered the game as a double-digit underdog. It lost to Connecticut and Syracuse this season. Bridgewater wasn’t even 100-percent healthy Wednesday after dealing with wrist and ankle injuries throughout the year.
The quarterback who wears gloves on both hands and stores Bazooka bubble gum in his socks during games surprised the Gators with his complete performance.
“I didn’t think he was that good until he showed us different,” defensive tackle Dominique Easley said.
Bridgewater converted 9 of 14 third down opportunities, which included 3 of 4 longer than 10 yards out. He completed 7 of 11 passes on third down.
Florida, the nation’s 10th-ranked third-down defense at 31 percent conversions allowed, couldn’t get Bridgewater off the field.
Strong almost didn’t get the opportunity to coach this game-changing quarterback, who already has 23 starts and a BCS bowl victory in his two-year career.
Bridgewater, a standout at prep football power Miami Northwestern High, was committed to his hometown Hurricanes until he switched to Louisville following the firing of former Miami coach Randy Shannon.
He exhibited toughness and restraint against Florida, especially when linebacker Jon Bostic drilled him and knocked off his helmet on his first pass attempt in the first quarter.
“I give it all to Teddy Bridgewater,” Easley said. “He is a great quarterback. He knows how to execute and take control of his team. He broke us apart.”
Despite Bridgewater’s banner performance, the poor outing from the Florida defense was surprising.
Redshirt senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter found a silver lining in a game with not much to cheer about for Florida.
“Defense didn’t execute the way we wanted it to,” he said. “But this team will learn from it going forward next year and will be that much better because of it.”
Contact Adam Pincus at [email protected].