When Northern Illinois moved into the top 16 in the BCS standings, they claimed an automatic birth in a BCS bowl game. Besides placing the Huskies in the Orange Bowl against ACC champs Florida State, there was also a trickle-down effect to the other big bowl games. The Sugar Bowl would have had a chance to select an at-large team such as perennial powerhouse Oklahoma. However, no at-large team could be selected because there was one final automatic qualifying conference champion: Louisville. The other team was an obvious choice. Now that the matchup is set, the Gamedayr Statistics Department breaks down the numbers to predict the winner.
Sugar Bowl: No. 21 Louisville vs No. 3 Florida
The Louisville Cardinals tied for first in the Big East at 10-2 overall and 5-2 in-conference. Both defeats were tough, including a blowout loss to Syracuse and a triple overtime loss to Connecticut. They also won a number of close games, as seven of their 10 wins came by 10 points or less. Lead by sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and a lethal passing attack, the Cardinals offense does a great job of controlling possession of the ball. They are No. 8 in the nation in time of possession with almost 33 minutes per game and 23rd in the nation with a +9 turnover margin.
Unlike Louisville, the Gators run a ground-heavy offense lead by senior tailback Mike Gillislee. Just like the Cardinals, Florida controls the clock, coming in at No. 6 in the nation in time of possession, and does not turn the ball over. The Gators are tied for fifth in the nation with a turnover margin of +17.
Bridgewater had a tremendous season for Louisville, and was even mentioned in the Heisman conversation before stumbling late in the year. He is 16th in the country with 3,452 passing yards. He also has a great touchdown-to-interception ratio of 25:7. Reducing turnovers will be key for the young quarterback if his Cardinals are going to put up points against one of the best defenses in the land.
The Cardinals’ run game is virtually nonexistent. They rank 100th in the country with just 127.1 rush yards per game, and none of their running backs have rushed for more than 750 yards on the season.
On the other side of the ball is Jeff Driskel, who leads the Gators’ sad excuse for a passing game. For all the horrendous statistics that can be thrown around about the Louisville ground attack, the same can be said for the Gators’ air assault. They are 118th (out of 124 teams) in the nation with just 143.9 pass yards per game. The Gators—as they have done all year long—will look to pound the ball down the throat of their opponent, only throwing in dire situations or to catch the defense off guard.
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As we’ve seen all year, this is the area of the game in which the SEC proves why it has taken home each of the last six BCS national championships. The Gators are No. 3 in the nation in points allowed, letting up just 12.9 points per game. The two teams ahead of them? Notre Dame and Alabama, who just so happen to be playing for the national championship. They are also No. 5-nationally in total defense, allowing just 282.6 yards per game.
Louisville, on the other hand, allows 23.8 points per game and gives up 344.8 total yards per game. Now these are not terrible numbers, and they put the Cardinals in the upper third of defenses nationally. But the Florida Gator defense is playing as well as, if not better than, any defense in the country, and Teddy Bridgewater better bring his A-game if he wants to leave New Orleans with a win.
[Even more on BCS bowls >> Previewing the BCS Orange Bowl]
We know the Gators will run the ball all day, and we know the Cardinals will pass the ball the majority of the time. One thing to look for is how the coaches have used this month of preparation to scheme against their opponent’s one-dimensional offense. A true test for an offense is running the ball when everyone in the stadium knows you’re going to run the ball. Both head coaches are former defensive coordinators at big time football programs (Muschamp at LSU and Texas, Strong at Florida). It will be fun to see the creative blitzes and coverages that the two come up with. In the end, the Florida defense is just too talented for Louisville to handle.
Florida 30, Louisville, 13
Story Line to Watch
Charlie Strong, head coach of Louisville, served as defensive coordinator at Florida from 2003-2009. Strong helped the Gators win national championships in 2006 and 2008 before leaving to take the head coaching position at Lousiville. This will be Strong’s first game against his former team since leaving Florida.
Who do you think will win? Let us know in the comments below.
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