September 2, 2012; Louisville, KY USA; The Louisville Cardinals ladybirds dance team performs before the first half of play against the Kentucky Wildcats at Papa John

BCS Bowl Preview – Sugar Bowl


Welcome to noight two and game 3 of the BCS Series.  In tonight’s segment we look at the All-State Sugar Bowl pitting the Big East champion Louisville Cardinals against SEC’s Florida Gators.  Florida was one of the two At-large teams selected by the BCS – the Oregon Ducks are the other team.

In the Sugar Bowl, you have a team in Louisville led by the strong-armed Teddy Bridgewater who can throw the ball all around the joint and running back Jeremy Wright up against a team in Florida that possesses one of the best defenses in the nation to go along with dual-threat quarterback Jeff Driskel and hard-nosed running back Mike Gillislee.

While the possibility exists that this game could turn into a shootout, the more realistic scenario involves a close-to-the-vest contest where the defenses dominate.  On the year, Florida ranks 3rd nationally in giving up the fewest points per game at 12.9 per game while Louisville ranks 36th only giving up 23.8 points per game.  No matter how the game turns out, the Sugar Bowl will feature two contrasting styles of offense.  Louisville favors a spread-you-out throw it down the field style of game while Florida prefers to pound the ball on the ground.  Louisville comes into the contest ranking as the 23rd best passing team averaging nearly 300 yards per game through the air, while Florida comes into the game ranking 34th nationally in rushing yards per game at 194.1 yards.  In the end, it should be an exciting game that comes down to the fourth quarter

Sugar Bowl

Louisville is a clear underdog in the Sugar Bowl, but the Cardinals can already claim one major victory over an SEC team this postseason.

Charlie Strong’s decision to stay with the school also sets up an intriguing reunion Wednesday in New Orleans.

The former Florida defensive coordinator leads No. 22 Louisville against the fourth-ranked Gators, who are looking for their fifth straight win in a BCS bowl.

Strong’s success at Louisville (10-2) made him one of the hot names in this year’s coaching carousel, but he turned down an offer from Tennessee to stay with the Cardinals, who are moving from the Big East to the ACC in 2014.

Strong helped Florida (11-1) remain among the nation’s best programs in recent years. He’s had four different stints on the Gators’ staff, most significantly running their defense from 2003-09 – a stretch that included a pair of BCS titles.

Louisville took a circuitous path to this game, starting 9-0 before dropping back-to-back contests to Syracuse and Connecticut, but they recovered to their final game to earn a share of the Big East title and the conference’s BCS bid.

A month off could get Big East offensive player of the year Teddy Bridgewater back to full health. The sophomore quarterback completed 69.0 percent of his passes for 3452 yards and 25 touchdowns, but he didn’t start and couldn’t take snaps under center against Rutgers due to a broken wrist and a sore ankle.

That didn’t stop the Florida native from coming off the bench and going 20 of 28 for 263 yards and a pair of TDs to rally the Cardinals.

The Gators won both previous meetings with Louisville in 1980 and 1992, both in Gainesville.

How They Got Here

Lousiville Cardinals

September 8, 2012; Louisville, KY USA; Louisville Cardinals cheerleaders perform during the second half of play against the Missouri State Bears at Papa John

The Louisville Cardinals played into the second week of November with the idea that they could be a national title contender.  They were undefeated and attained a BCS rank of #9.  In those first nine wins, Lousiville beat the likes of Kentucky, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, South Florida, Cincinnati, and Temple.  After their win at Temple, many thought that the Cardinals had smooth sailing to the end of the year.  That is, until week 10 when Louisville went to Syracuse to take on the pesky Orange.  Syracuse pushed all of the right buttons that day as they man-handled the Cardinals 45-26.  The hangover lasted another week as Lousiville dropped their next contest to Connecticut 23-20 in 3OT.

To earn their BCS trip, Louisville had to defeat Rutgers in the final week of the season.  After once seemingly having the Big East wrapped up, the Cardinals needed one more gutsy effort.  They got that effort as they went to Piscataway, NJ and defeated Rutgers by the score of 20-17.

They technically tied for the league title with Cincinnati and Rutgers, all going 5-2 in the confernce, but because Louisville was the highest ranked team in the BCS, they earned the automatic invite to the Sugar Bowl.  They couldn’t be prouder to accept the invitation.  Lousiville knows that they have something to prove.  After losing two of their last three games, many believed that Louisville did not belong in a BCS game and would be overmatched against any team they would face.  Pitting them against Florida gives them one final opportunity to prove that they do indeed belong with the upper tier of teams.

Florida Gators

Sep 8, 2012; College Station, TX, USA; Florida Gators cheerleader performs against the Texas A

The Florida Gators were a team that many football pundits believed was at least another year away from contending.  Head coach Will Muschamp though beleived in his team and challenged them to rise to the level he knew they were capable of.  After defeating Ohio State in last year’s Gator Bowl, preparation were made in earnest to “go for it” in 2012.

The Gators started the year facing Bowling Green.  It was a lackluster game, but eventually Florida was able to pull through.  Their second game placed the Gators at Klye Field in College Station, Texas to faceoff with the Texas A&M Aggies in their first-ever SEC game.  At the time, no one knew how special Johnny Manziel would be for the Aggies, but at halftime, the Gators made adjustments in their defensive scheme and were able to contain him and the rest of the Aggies.  as a result, Florida won 20-17.  The following week, Florida continued their superlative play by going on the road to Knoxville, TN and defeated then-#23 Tennessee Volunteers.

Florida would go on to win four more games after that including showdowns with top-10 teams the LSU Tigers (14-6) and the South Carolina Gamecocks (44-11).  After their win over South Carolina, Florida was sitting 7-0, 6-0 in the SEC East and were at #2 in the polls.  Then came the annual rivalry with Georgia played in Jacksonville, FL.  Georgia came ot with a chip on their shoulder and took it to the Gators, defeating them by a score of 17-9.  That would be the one and only loss Florida would suffer during the regular season.  They had other close games including one against Sun Belt member UL-Lafayette that took a last minute TD and special teams TD to avoid the upset.  They also defeated the arch rival Florida State to close out the regular season.

Because Florida was shut out of the SEC title game, as Georgia represented the SEC East, the Gators had to await their fate on Sunday Dec. 2nd when the BCS matchups would be announced.  Florida was ranked #3 and were invited to play in the Sugar Bowl.  The Gators hope to use this game to springboard them into a 2013 season that the Gainesville-hopeful believe will turn into a national title run.

Key Matchups

The Florida Running Game (Mike Gillislee, Trey Burton, and Jeff Driskel) vs. The Lousiville Run Defense

As was mentioned earlier, Florida ranks 34th nationally in rushing yards per game.  They use a read-option style of offense led by quarterback Jeff Driskel.  The primary running back is Mike Gillislee and the Wildcat back is Trey Burton.  Why this matchup could be so appealing  is because it is the biggest mis-match of the game.  While Florida is extremely adept at runnning the ball, Lousivlle gave up the second most rushing yards to opposing teams in the Big East (151.08 ypg).  If Florida is successful running the ball, they can stick with their strength, shorten the game by keeping the clock moving, and leave Teddy Bridgeater and the Cardinals offense on the bench.

Nov 24, 2012; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Florida Gators running back Trey Burton (8) carries the ball against the Florida State Seminoles during the second half at Doak Campbell Stadium. The Gators won 37-26. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

On the year, senior Mike Gillislee was able to rush for over 1100 yards and scoring 10 times.  He also added 15 receptions for nearly 150 yards and 1 score.  As a read-option quarterback, Jeff Driskel ran the ball 108 times for 404 yards, and he punched it four times.  Try Burton ran the Wildcat formation for the Gators.  The junior ran for 166 yards and 2 scores, but his speed forced defenders to respect his ability.  And, just to keep opposing defense honest, Burton threw the ball 4 times with 3 completions.

If you’re Louisville, and you nearly have the worst rush defense in the Big East, how are you going to stop one of the best rushing offense in the country.  The answer is to stack the line of scrimmage; put 8 or 9 guys in the box and sell out to stop the run.  Look for not only Louisville’s linebackers to move close to the line of scrimmage, but also in certain packages, thehir defensive backs.  Linebacker Preston Brown was the leading tackler for the Cardinals, but defensive back, Calvin Pryor was right behind him.  Pryor was one tackle shy of the Big East lead for tackles by defensive backs in the Big East.  Also, keepy our eye on Hakeem Smith in the secondary as well.  If Louisville can overload the line of scrimmage and slow down the Gators rushing attack it will force the Gators and Driskel to go to the air.  Florida has one of the lowest passing yards per game averages in college football while Louisville had the best pass defense in the Big East.

The tide and momentum of this game will hinge on which team is able to stop the other.  If Florida can be successful with their bread-and-butter, the running game, they will likely be able to wear down Louisville by the second half and the game could get out of hand.  On the other side, if Louisville is successful in slowing down the Florida running game and forces the Gators to the air where Louisville is one of the better teams in the Big East, they could potentially pull the upset.

Teddy Bridgewater vs Florida Secondary

Nov 29, 2012; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Louisville Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) warms up prior to the game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at High Point Solutions Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim O

Will Muschamp’s Florida defense, though, could provide a challenge unlike anything Bridgewater has seen. Led by first-team All-America safety Matt Elam, the Gators rank third nationally in points allowed (12.9 per game), and they’ve given upjust five passing touchdowns while making 19 interceptions.

Their opponents completed 51.2 percent of their passes for just 186.0 yards per game. Florida held eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel to a season-low 173 passing yards in beating Texas A&M in September.

Prediction

Look for Florida to come out of the gates a little sluggish, not because they won’t be motivated to play in the game, rather its because that is their MO during the year.  Sometimes that sluggishness has nearly cost them the game (i.e. Missouri or UL-Lafayette).

For Louisville, they will be fired up and looking to prove that they belong with the best in the country.  The game will likely be placed squarely on the shoulders of RB Jeremy Wright and QB Teddy Bridgewater.

I see this game being close (within 1 score) at the half.  At the half, the Florida defensive staff will make some adjustments that will confuse Bridgeater and force him into a pivotal interception.  Florida will menthodically move the ball down the field chewing up clock and punch it into the end zone.  Florida will then force a 3-and-out and once again eat up time by driving down the field for another score.

Bridgewater will valiantly try to rally the troops but Florida’s superior defense will be too much for him and the rest of the Cardinals to overcome.  The Gators will run out the clock and win the game leaving them as either the #2 or #3 team in the country.

Louisville – 13

Florida – 27

Tags: Florida Gators Football Louisville Cardinals Football Sugar Bowl