The Florida Gators, who played with poise all season taking them to an 11-1 regular season, came unglued in New Orleans losing to the Louisville Cardinals 33-23 in the 79th All State Sugar Bowl.
The Gators, who were double digit favorites, gave up a pick six on the first play from scrimmage and it was all downhill from there. All night, the Gators defense seemed to be in position to make a big play, then they were beaten by a sophomore quarterback who will realistically be a Heisman candidate to start next season. Teddy Bridgewater was relatively unknown coming into the Sugar Bowl against third ranked Florida but left as a known quantity hitting pass after pass and converting third down after third down against one of the best third down defenses in the country. Bridgewater made it look easy against the top pass efficiency defense in the nation throwing to spots and allowing his receivers to run to the football.
The Gators, who were stunned from the start, reminiscent of the Georgia game, never seemed to recover as the team is not built to play from a double digit deficit. Louisville punted one time with 6 minutes left in the game, and that stat alone tells the story. Bridgewater was 20-32 for 266 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and was voted the game MVP. He opened the first half hitting 12-17 for 180 yards and one touchdown. Driskel, conversely, opened 7-12 for 77 yards and a pick six.
“We got outcoached and outplayed,” Gator head coach Will Muschamp said after the game. “That’s what I told the football team. It’s the bottom line. You go out and you get beat, you get beat. And that’s what happened”
So often coaches overstate situations. In this case, Muschamp probably understated the situation.
Senior offensive guard James Wilson summed it up by simply saying,
” They came out and refused to lose, that’s about it.”
The Gator defense seemed to be ready early as they were hitting hard, but it didn’t seem to faze Louisville as they made play after play getting first down after first down in spite of the Gators hard hits. Florida controlled the run as has been their M.O. all season, allowing only 70 yards for the game and most of that came in the fourth quarter when the game was out of hand. They couldn’t control Bridgewater, however, who showed he had ice in his veins. The Gator defensive players said before the game he was the best quarterback that they would face all season and he lived up to that billing in this one.
The biggest struggle for the Gator defense was on third down. Repeatedly the defense made good plays on first and second down but couldn’t get off the field on third down. For a defense that was one of the tops in the nation in defensive third down efficiency all season, it was a disappointing performance.
(The Gator defense) “got behind the eight ball, struggled on third down on defense the entire game,” Muschamp said. “Got us out of whack a little bit. Give Bridgewater credit he made some throws and made some plays.”
The Gator pass rush seemed to be a step short the whole game and he made them pay hitting receivers on slants, posts, fades, and go routes. On third down after third down when they needed a play he hit receivers for first downs.
Jeff Driskel, on the other hand, seemed to be slightly off on throw after throw starting with his first throw of the night. It wasn’t until the Cardinals were in prevent at the end of the first half and the fourth quarter that Driskel seemed to hit some passes. Bridgewater was everything that Driskel wasn’t in this one.
The two biggest things Muschamp stresses are third down conversions and turnover margin. The Gators not only couldn’t get off the field on third down defensively but they couldn’t stay on the field on third down offensively. Louisville was 9-14 and the Gators were 3-10. Not going to win many games with those stats. On turnovers, the Gators gave up three and gained only one. For a team that finished fifth in the country in turnover margin this season, that’s just not going to get it done.
Louisville did exactly what they needed to do. The vaunted Florida running game was neutralized by the quick Cardinal lead and relentless Louisville offense. In the end, the Gators had to make plays in the passing game and this is one area they couldn’t get it done all season and certainly were unable to in this one.
The Gators rushed for 111 yards and made some significant plays in the running game but playing from behind they were never able to establish that power running game which wears the defense down in the fourth quarter and for all intents and purposes it was largely ineffective to the final outcome of the game.
Rather than being a statement game about the direction of the Florida program or the power of the SEC, this one was more a showcase for a possible Heisman candidacy for Bridgewater and a coming out party for the Louisville program. The Gators were highly outcoached and outplayed in this game and it wasn’t even close. To say this was the biggest upset in a BCS game, would be an understatement. The final ten point margin was not quite indicative of how overwhelming the Louisville domination was in this game.
After the game, safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who both played the games of their lives, declared that they were going to leave school for the NFL draft. Both players made big plays and big hits, but they weren’t enough as Louisville took every shot the Gators gave and kept on trucking.