TAMPA, Fla. – South Florida defensive tackle Todd Chandler is a close friend of Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and feels his former high school teammate is a lot more than one of the best college quarterbacks in the nation.
Chandler has known the Cardinals star since before their days at Miami Northwestern High. He says in addition to being a smart player who's "great under pressure" that Bridgewater is an even better person off the field — humble, compassionate and an inspiration for kids growing up in their neighborhood back home.
"Teddy grew up in Liberty City, where I grew up also," said Chandler, who'll face his buddy Saturday when No. 18 Louisville (6-1, 2-1) visits USF (2-4, 2-0) in American Athletic Conference play.
"Coming from Miami, a lot of young men don't make it out," Chandler added, noting there are several players on Louisville's roster from their old high school. "It's great to see them doing something positive with their lives."
While Bridgewater was developing into an outstanding prep player, the young quarterback's mother was also fighting cancer, a battle she eventually won.
"The situation he was going through in high school, I know it built him as a man. It put a drive in him that no one can take away," Chandler said.
"There were days when Teddy would come to practice and he would just break down and start crying. He was battling some big issues. ... Some days, I'd go over and talk to him: 'Oh man, it's going to be all right.' ... How Teddy's life is going now, it's special to see that."
Bridgewater has completed 72 percent of his passes and thrown for 20 touchdowns with just two interceptions this season. Louisville enters Saturday's matchup coming off a 38-35 loss to Central Florida that stopped an eight-game winning streak and sent the Cardinals tumbling 10 spots in the AP poll.
Against UCF, a usually reliable Louisville defense couldn't protect a 21-point, second-half lead.
"I was real disappointed, not because it was Teddy, but I wanted to be the one, wanted South Florida to be their first loss," Chandler said.
Cardinals coach Charlie Strong senses a renewed hunger and commitment within his team.
"When you have built tradition in your program, then you are always expected to be undefeated because that is what your expectations are. But when you are trying to build something and you reach that point, are they really ready for it? Can they really handle that?" Strong said.
"Now that you gave away one, you can bring them back and (say) when we get in those situations we can't let that happen again," the coach added. "You just show last week to the guys and say we can't come out like that."
Five things to watch as Louisville tries to rebound from their first loss and USF aims to remain unbeaten in the AAC:
HE'S OUR MAN: Despite not having dazzling statistics, USF's Bobby Eveld will make his second straight start at quarterback in place of Penn state transfer Steven Bench. The Bulls lost their first four games, but are 2-0 in the AAC despite not scoring an offensive TD in either of their wins.
WHO'S GOT THE "HOT HAND": Strong has not declared Senorise Perry, Dominique Brown or former Auburn star Michael Dyer as Louisville's the primary running back. The Cardinals have has simply given each an opportunity to who's got the "hot hand" on a particular game. Last week it was the bullish Brown, who rushed for a season-high 88 yards on 12 carries against UCF.
SLOW DOWN TEDDY: In two career games against USF, Bridgewater has completed 40 of 53 passes for 497 yards, five TDs and no interceptions. Louisville won both with fourth-quarter comebacks.
ANGRY DEFENSE: Louisville's defensive players have a chip on their shoulders after not having sack or a tackle while yielding season highs of 38 points and 446 yards against UCF. What bothered Strong most was how the unit lost its aggressiveness after the Cardinals built a 28-7 lead.
NICE OPPORTUNITY: USF coach Willie Taggart welcomes the challenge of playing a Top 25 team, but isn't attaching any extra significance on Saturday's game. "We're just looking to try to improve. That's all we talk about, continue to make improvement in every aspect," the first-year coach said.