By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA – Saturday’s battle with No. 16/18 Louisville is a marquee game on USF’s schedule that has special meaning for a lot of Bulls.
The programs have a combined 125 players from the state of Florida on their rosters and USF defensive tackle Todd Chandler will go up against five opponents that played for his prep team, Miami Northwestern High School.
“All those guys played at my high school and to see those guys come out of that situation and excel is great,” Chandler said. “It’s great to play against those guys and to see them doing well and making an effort to do something positive with their lives.”
The most notable Louisville name from Miami Northwestern doesn’t need much of an introduction. Junior quarterback and Heisman hopeful Teddy Bridgewater is 20-8 as a college starter and ranks third nationally in pass efficiency (191.85) which is helping the 2012 Big East Rookie of the Year stay on solid ground in the NFL Draft picture. Bridgewater currently ranks second on ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s Big Board.
“Sometimes it’s not fair some of the things he does, but our guys are looking forward to the challenge. They’re really excited about it,” head coach Willie Taggart said. “Why wouldn’t you be when you’re a competitor and you’ve got a chance to go against one of the best quarterbacks in the country. They all want to play against an NFL quarterback and you’ve got a chance to this week.”
Bridgewater also ranks third nationally in touchdown passes (20) and 10th in passing yards (1,872) heading into Saturday’s noon game and Chandler, who has known the QB since the 10th grade, said the Bulls will need to make his stay at Raymond James Stadium an uncomfortable one.
“He’s brilliant. He can read defenses. He’s great under pressure, so we’re going to have come in and hit him as many times as we can, hit him every time he throws the ball, to get him out of rhythm,” Chandler said. “Once Teddy catches rhythm, he finds his groove and he just keeps going with it.”
The Bulls defense has been on a roll of its own and looks to keep it going in the homecoming game. USF has scored a touchdown off a turnover on defense in three straight games while ranking 17th in the FBS in fumbles recovered (7) and 37th in turnovers (13).
Solid defensive production has helped the Bulls start 2-0 in conference play for the first time since 2003.
“We believe in (defensive coordinator Chuck) Bresnahan and his plan, and we’re just executing the last two games creating turnovers and touchdowns. It’s just all coming together,” Chandler said.
Chandler, who grew up just minutes away from Bridgewater, said old friendships will take a back seat this week as USF chases after its first 3-0 start to league play in program history.
“It’s college football. Like Coach Taggart said, ‘All those guys are on scholarship for a reason.’ We just have to come outplay Louisville offensively and defensively and just make it happen,” Chandler said. “… You’re my friend, but we have on two different jerseys.”
More USF-Bridgewater Connections
USF defensive tackle Elkino Watson (Booker T. Washington High) and assistant coach Telly Lockette (former head coach at Miami Central) were part of teams that competed against Bridgewater at the prep level.