The Florida Gators were heavy favorites the entire month leading up to the team’s Sugar Bowl matchup with Big East champion Louisville. Basically, there was no way a team out of the lowly Big East was going to beat a one-loss program out of the mighty SEC.
There was no way it was going to happen, of course, until the game itself was played in the Superdome in New Orleans.
After spending 15 seasons as an assistant at Florida, Louisville coach Charlie Strong was passed over for the Gators’ vacated head coaching position in favor of Will Muschamp. On Wednesday night, Strong’s Cardinals team helped him exact a degree of revenge in dominating the Gators en route to a 33-23 Sugar Bowl victory.
In an interesting statistical quirk, Louisville scored on the first play from scrimmage to open both the first and second halves.
Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel missed an open target and Terell Floyd took an interception 38 yards to the house. The team would not look back after taking the quick, 7-0, lead.
Teddy Bridgewater played the de facto Big East Championship game — the Cardinals’ regular season finale against Rutgers decided who would be headed to the conference’s BCS game — with a badly sprained ankle and a broken left hand. The month off provided the quarterback and captain time to rest and to heal up. On Wednesday, he made the most of his healthy frame.
The Gators opened the second half with a failed onside kick attempt and committed not one but two personal fouls on a night when the entire Orange and Blue team was once again lacking in discipline. Thus, with his team looking at first-and-10 only 19 yards from paydirt, Bridgewater lofted a pass to Damian Copeland for the touchdown not even 10 seconds into the half. It was the only score of the third quarter.
Bridgewater dominated his Gators counterpart, Jeff Driskel. The leader of Louisville completed 20-of-32 passes for 266 yards, two touchdowns and one pick. Driskel, on the other hand, completed 16-of-29 pass attempts for 175 yards, one garbage time touchdown pass and two interceptions.
Turnovers, as they are wont to do, proved to be a big story in this one. Florida came into the prestigious bowl game with a +17 turnover ratio, tied for fifth in all of college football, but the team lost the two interceptions and also fumbled once, thus losing the turnover battle 1-3.
Louisville continued to drive on the Gators, but the kicking game was unable to break through until John Wallace finally bagged a 30-yard attempt in the fourth quarter after missing two earlier in the game.
After the converted field goal, Gators fans got a great big whiff of the smell of victory. However, the too-little-too-late efforts of formerly disgraced wide receiver Andre Debose reeked of what might have been.
Debose led all Florida pass catchers in 2011, tallying 432 yards and four scores. He also owned the UF all-time record with three kickoff returns for scores. In 2012, the young man with a reported attitude problem was hardly anywhere to be found, catching a mere two passes for 11 yards with no scores, either receiving or on special teams.
The explosive weapon finally made good on a season’s worth of promise following Wallace’s field goal, returning the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to extend his school returns record to four.
However, even after the spectacular runback and the aforementioned garbage time touchdown pass from Driskel to promising freshman tight end Kent Taylor, Florida never really stood a chance.
Louisville and Charlie Strong had shocked the Florida Gators, Will Muschamp, and the college football world.
The Big East Champions had knocked off the No. 3-ranked team in the nation, and they did it in undeniable, dominating fashion.
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