The Louisville quarterback was too banged-up to start, but more than well enough to finish off Rutgers and send the Cardinals to the Bowl Championship Series.
Bridgewater came off the bench to throw two-second half touchdown passes, and John Wallace kicked a 29-yard field goal with 1:41 left to give Louisville a 20-17 victory against Rutgers on Thursday night in what was essentially the Big East championship game.
In a game between one team headed to the Big Ten and another bound for the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East handed out its second-to-last BCS bid to a school that entered the league during its last massive rebuild in 2005 and watched its athletic program blossom.
The Cardinals will be going to the BCS for the second time, first since 2006. Either the Orange or Sugar Bowl will be the destination.
Louisville (10-2, 5-2) will share this Big East title with Rutgers (9-3, 5-2), Syracuse and possibly even Cincinnati, but those guys only get a banner. The Cardinals get the ticket to the big game. The BCS standings will be used to break the tie and there is no doubt Louisville, with the best overall record in the conference, will be on top.
Bridgewater didn't start a week after getting roughed up in a loss to Connecticut. He broke his left wrist and sprained his right ankle. He entered for the first time against Rutgers in the second quarter and finished 20 for 28 for 263 yards and threw a pair of TD passes in the third quarter to wipe out a 14-3 deficit.
"They have a tremendous playmaker at the quarterback position," first-year Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. "We just weren't able to match him in the end."
Cardinals linebacker James Burgess picked off a pass that bounced off Timmy Wright's hands with 3:53 left in the fourth quarter in Rutgers territory, and Bridgewater hit Andrell Smith on a slant for 30 yards to put Louisville in field goal range. Wallace booted through the short kick to give Louisville a three-point lead.
Louisville ended up tossing oranges in the air when it was over and exchanging high-fives with a small group of its fans in a corner of the stadium.
The Cardinals might end up in New Orleans instead of Miami, depending on how the rest of championship weekend plays out.
LOTT FINALISTS: Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o Stanford’s Chase Thomas and Kansas State’s Arthur Brown are the finalists for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, given to the collegiate defensive player having the biggest impact on his team.
The winner of the award named for Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott will be announced on Dec. 9.
SOUTHERN CAL: Assistant coach Monte Kiffin, the father of head coach Lane Kiffin, will resign after the Trojans’ upcoming bowl game in order to pursue opportunities in the NFL, he announced Thursday.
“I wanted to make this announcement now so that our players who are preparing for the bowl game and our recruits who will be visiting campus are aware,” Kiffin said in a statement. “I really enjoyed my time at USC and the opportunity I had to work with our players and coaches. The chance to work for my son, Lane, was unique and memorable, but we always treated each other professionally on a coach-to-coach basis.”
MATHIEU’S PLANS: ESPN reported Thursday that former Louisiana State University defensive back Tyrann Mathieu will enter the NFL Draft.
The 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist was kicked off the team at LSU on Aug. 10 for failing drug tests.
MAKING THE GRADE: The Black Coaches and Administrators have awarded ‘A’ grades to 21 of the 39 Division I schools that conducted head football coaching searches in 2011-12, though executive director Floyd Keith said Thursday he was alarmed that only six of them hired minorities.
The annual Hiring Report Card is not based on how many minority coaches are hired. Rather, schools are evaluated based on criteria pertaining to the hiring process. Historically black schools are not included in the study.
Of 12 coaching changes in the BCS automatic qualifying conferences the past year, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin was the only coach of color to be hired.
African-Americans Curtis Johnson (Tulane) and Garrick McGee (Alabama-Birmingham) and Pacific Islander Norm Chow (Hawaii) were other coaches of color hired in the Bowl Subdivision.
African-Americans Turner Gill (Liberty) and Dino Babers (Eastern Illinois) were hired in the Championship Subdivision.