LINCOLN — Going out and throwing for 377 yards and playing 77 snaps in the Mississippi heat Saturday night might have been one of the easier things Allan Bridgford has done the last six months.
That was just playing football for the Southern Mississippi senior quarterback.
“I've definitely been rushing through some things,” Bridgford said Wednesday from Hattiesburg, Miss. “But there have been times I've sat back and looked at where I am right now, and it's crazy.”
After some staff changes at California and spring practice repetitions that signaled where he stood with the Bears' new regime, Bridgford decided he would play his final season elsewhere in 2013.
To do so at another FBS school, however, Bridgford had to take a summer-school class load so heavy that it basically consumed him until graduation in late July. Already mentally drained, he arrived in Hattiesburg just days before fall camp started Aug. 1 and made a full-time job of learning the Eagles' playbook.
Practices started with Bridgford joining three other quarterbacks under the watch of first-year head coach Todd Monken, who had spent the last two seasons as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State.
“There was no guarantee,” Bridgford said. “It was four people competing for the job and doing their best every day and making each other better. Coach Monken hoped that somebody would just rise to the top and take that role.”
That turned out to be Bridgford, the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder from Mission Viejo, Calif. Nebraska was among the big-name schools that recruited the four-star prospect out of high school, but Bridgford wanted to stay on the West Coast and picked Cal over UCLA.
He was miles from home Saturday night but comfortable nonetheless as Southern Miss started its season with a 22-15 loss to Texas State.
The score doesn't tell the whole story. Southern Miss committed six turnovers in a game where it held a 400-207 edge in total offense. Bridgford completed 28 of 53 passes, with one touchdown and two interceptions. The 377 yards ranked No. 5 on the school's single-game chart. He connected with Tyre'oune Holmes on 12 throws, and Rickey Bradley picked up 193 yards on seven receptions.
It was a good first step for a program that completed just 48.2 percent of its passes with nine touchdowns a year ago, when it finished 0-12.
“What an unbelievable job Allan Bridgford did, when you think about a guy who wasn't here in the spring, wasn't here in the summer,” Monken said Monday. “He came a week before camp and then had just fall camp to really try to understand what we're doing and to move forward. I mean, that's a credit to him.
“Did he make mistakes? Of course he did. But that's to be understood. But for him to come out and really throw the ball accurately, to run our offense the way he has, is really almost unprecedented when you think about it.”
The chance to play for Monken, who had Cleveland Browns starting quarterback Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State in 2011, was only part of the attraction to Southern Miss. The bigger draw was Eagles offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo, who was Bridgford's position coach at Cal the previous two years.
“The thing I was most comfortable with my close relationship with Marcus Arroyo,” Bridgford said. “Having that carryover was nice.
“I didn't look at any other schools. With some others there was contact, but I thought Southern Miss was just an opportunity to come in and compete for the job. I was never going to find a school that would just say, 'You're going to be the guy if you come in.' It was just a chance that was as good as it was going to get for me.”
Bridgford's playing time at Cal was somewhat limited the last two seasons because of record-setting quarterback Zach Maynard. When the Bears' new staff — led by Sonny Dykes replacing Jeff Tedford — was taking longer looks at two freshmen in spring practice, he realized he probably wasn't at the center of their plans.
Of course, this was never in the plans, either.
“If you asked me four years ago when I got to Cal, I'd tell you about all the success I was going to have,” Bridgford said. “Now it's crazy how much change I've had in a short period of time. I'm a Cal grad and I'm out in Southern Mississippi playing football at somewhere I never thought I'd be playing football.”
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