2013 Sugar Bowl: No. 3 Florida loses to No. 21 Louisville, 33-23, ending Cinderella season for Gators

Florida Gators fans look on during the fourth quarter of the Sugar Bowl against the Louisville Cardinals at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Louisville defeated Florida 33-23. (Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports)

EA Sports predicted the outcome to be 37-23 in favor of the Gators. The score was close, but the predicted winner was not right at all.

The Louisville Cardinals shocked the Gators 33-23 in dominating fashion in front of 54,178 fans in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans Wednesday night. Louisville finished its season 11-2 overall while Florida fell to the same 11-2 (7-1 SEC).

The first play from scrimmage set the tone of the game. Louisville took a one touchdown lead within 15 seconds when Terell Floyd intercepted Gator quarterback Jeff Driskel’s throw for a 38-yard return.

Only a few minutes later, Louisville’s Jeremy Wright scored when he completed a 13-play, 83-yard drive and the Gators were shell shocked, down 14-0 early on..

After that, the Florida offense was fluid in the first half when Driskel connected with Omarius Hines for 14 yards, Mike Gillislee for 13 and Wildcat quarterback Trey Burton ran for 19 yards. However, Driskel couldn’t finish on third down, stalling the Gators’ drive. The team had to settle for a field goal attempt, and Caleb Sturgis drilled a 33-yard attempt in the first minute of the second quarter.

The Cardinals’ John Wallace answered with a 27-yard field goal with eight minutes left in the second quarter. Florida finally managed to cut the lead to 24-10, just before halftime, however. Talented true freshman Matt Jones scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to cap off a 75-yard, 11-play drive.

Florida was one of the best teams at holding onto the football in the regular season, but the Cardinals forced three turnovers and held the Gators to just 286 yards offensively. Driskel only threw three interceptions the entire season but had two picked and lost a fumble at the end of the game. He completed a mere 16-of-29 of his pass attempts for 175 yards on the evening.

Coming out of halftime, Louisville read the Gators’ onside kick attempt perfectly and recovered it at midfield. Two personal fouls against Florida were called on the play – soon enough, Louisville was well within Gators territory. It only took the first play again, and the lead extended to 30-10 with Damian Copeland’s 19-yard scoring reception.

The score got prettier when the rarely used Andre Debose exploded with a kickoff return of 100 yards. Then, Driskel connected to tight end Kent Taylor for a touchdown with two minutes left in the game to make the final score 33-23.

Florida was one of the teams that led the nation in penalties and it showed. Florida had eight come-from-behind wins for the season, but halftime adjustments that worked out so well all season long weren’t enough in this one. The offense didn’t maintain its momentum, and the defense faltered, which allowed quarterback Terry Bridgewater to convert on most third downs.

Louisville’s Bridgewater was named the Most Valuable Player after throwing for 266 yards with two touchdowns and an interception despite several massive hits sustained by some of Florida’s spectacularly talented defensive linemen.

“We got outcoached and outplayed. That’s the bottom line,” Gators head coach Will Muschamp said afterwards. “This was an unfortunate setback. Obviously this is a sour day and I apologize to ours fans and the university.”

Congratulations to Louisville head coach Charlie Strong. He made his coaching debut at Florida as a graduate assistant in 1983 and was Florida’s defensive coordinator from 2003-2009.

Overall, it was still a Cinderalla-esque season for the Gators football program after finishing 7-6 overall in 2011. Don’t forget, the team shut down Johnny Football in the second half against Texas A&M in Week 2, established some sense of identity against LSU, ran over South Carolina and exacted vengeance on Florida State. Gators fans should be happy.

There’s always next season, Gators fans, so chin up: The team plays host to Toledo on Aug. 31.

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