Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater started slowly but ended with a flourish Thursday night in leading the Cardinals past host Cincinnati 31-24 in overtime in the regular-season finale for both.
Bridgewater (6 feet 3, 196 pounds), considered the most pro-ready among the draft-eligible quarterbacks, threw for 255 yards and three TD passes; two of the scoring tosses came in a six-minute span in the fourth quarter in which Bridgewater took over and showed why NFL teams covet his talents.
Louisville trailed 14-10 early in the fourth quarter when, on a fourth-and-12 from Cincinnati's 38, Bridgewater escaped a blitzing Bearcats defender, did a 360 in the pocket, rolled left, then took off for a 13-yard gain. He fended off Cincinnati linebacker Nick Temple with a stiff-arm on the final 8 yards of the run, which included Bridgewater running backward for the final 5 yards.
Then, on the ensuing third down, Bridgewater evaded a heavy rush by basically performing a pirouette in the pocket, then looked as if he was just heaving the ball out of bounds from Cincinnati's 32 to get away from the rush. Instead, the ball dropped perfectly into the hands of wide receiver Damian Copeland about 8 yards deep in the end zone. Copeland got both feet inbounds for the TD and a 17-14 lead.
After Cincinnati needed just two plays to retake the lead, Bridgewater then marched Louisville 60 yards in 12 plays for the go-ahead touchdown. He was 5-of-5 for 46 yards on the drive.
Cincinnati kicked a field goal with seven seconds left to send the game into overtime. Louisville (11-1) scored on its first overtime possession and Cincy (9-3) did not.
Bridgewater finished 23-of-37 (62.2 percent), his third-lowest completion rate of the season. He went into the game completing 71.0 percent of his passes, which was tied for the national lead. But cold weather and an overall offensive malaise hampered him in the first half; despite throwing a 36-yard TD pass on his first attempt of the night, Bridgewater was just 6-of-14 for 86 yards, the TD and a pick in the first half.
It was Louisville's final game as an AAC member - - the Cardinals will be in the ACC next season - - and Cincinnati's loss means UCF gets the league's automatic BCS bid. The question now for the Cardinals is whether Bridgewater goes with them to their new league. Louisville coach Charlie Strong has said Bridgewater wouldn't make a decision on whether to turn pro until after the season.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.