Gardner threw three of his four touchdown passes in the first half, and Michael Dyer ran for two scores to help the Red squad rout the White 56-13.
Bobby Petrino's first spring in his second stint as Louisville's coach drew 27,500 for the Cardinals' first night scrimmage in three years. His first-team offense proceeded to provide a promising look at life after Bridgewater, their star quarterback expected to be a first-round selection in next month's NFL draft.
Gardner completed his first seven passes en route to finishing 32 of 37 for 542 yards - 356 by halftime.
''We had good pass protection and guys getting wide open,'' Gardner said, ''and when guys are wide open, you can't miss them.''
Dyer, the former Auburn star, rushed for 99 yards on 10 carries for the Red, and added 51 yards and a 27-yard TD on four carries for the White.
James Quick caught five passes for 152 yards and a TD.
White team tailback L.J. Scott had 92 yards on 13 attempts.
The scrimmage was an important test run for the Cardinals and Petrino, who returned in January to the program he first led to prominence from 2003-06 before leaving for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons and subsequent college stops at Arkansas and Western Kentucky. He replaced Charlie Strong, who took the Texas job.
Petrino was received favorably by fans curious to see if he can maintain Louisville's success as it heads to an Atlantic Coast Conference featuring defending BCS champion Florida State and its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Jameis Winston.
The coach's main objective was determining whether Gardner, Kyle Bolin or senior transfer Brett Nelson will succeed Bridgewater - expected to be one of the top picks in next month's NFL draft - and execute Petrino's offensive philosophy.
Gardner, considered the front-runner after backing up Bridgewater last season, strengthened his credentials by displaying the same efficiency while leading the Red squad to 699 yards.
The redshirt sophomore's second pass hit speedy sophomore Quick in stride a step ahead of coverage down the left sideline for a 62-yard touchdown on the game's third play. Gardner was also impressive throwing into tight spaces, hitting wideout DeVante Parker (10 catches, 109 yards), tight end Gerald Christian (8-126), Eli Rogers (6-109) and others with zip across the middle.
Gardner's only mistake was a second-quarter interception by Chucky Williams, but he made a strong case to be under center this fall.
''It was good to see Will in command of the offense,'' Petrino said. ''I liked the way he carried himself. I liked the way he took charge of the huddle. He looked comfortable delivering the football, and for the most part, was very accurate with his throws.''
Then there was Dyer, who transferred from Arkansas Baptist College last fall with expectations of being the 1,000-yard rusher he was in back-to-back seasons with Auburn, including 1,093 to help the Tigers win the 2010 BCS championship.
Late-season injuries sidelined Dyer, but he looked more like his old, explosive self in the scrimmage. The senior's cutback ability also appears back as he dashed through White defenders for 21 yards to the 5 and set up his TD run on the next play for a 14-0 lead.
Dyer added a 4-yard TD run to put the Red up 28-7.
The Red team defense showed promise as it tries to replace seven starters, holding the White to 252 yards. But it allowed the White squad to drive 65 yards in six plays and close within 14-7 on Bolin's 1-yard TD pass to Matt Milton before Gardner and Dyer combined to break the game open from there.
''We did handicap the defense a little bit by being pretty base and not allowing a lot of pressure situations or pressure calls,'' Petrino said. ''But, I was happy with our spring. I think we're headed in the right direction, but we do have a long, long way to go.''
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