Coming into the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the Florida Gators were picked by everyone to walk over the Louisville Cardinals to a win. How could the lowly Big East champ knock off a one-loss SEC team? Turns out, it was pretty simple: Louisville showed up and played disciplined football. Florida just showed up and expected to win on their reputation. Any guesses on which approach won out?
The Cardinals came out from the start playing with intensity and jumped out on Florida early, turning the first play from scrimmage into a pick-six of Jeff Driskel. Coming into the game, the Gators quarterback had been a complimentary part of the offense, leading to only three interceptions all season. Things didn’t get any easier from there for the Gators.
Louisville played intelligently and meticulously moved the ball up and down the field. Teddy Bridgewater eviscerated the Gators’ secondary, calmly converting nearly every third down he got into, with Louisville not being forced to punt until six minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
All the while, Florida failed to do all the things that had made them successful all season long. The defensive pressure couldn’t get to Bridgewater. The physical SEC corners couldn’t stay with the Cardinals’ receivers. The No. 3 scoring defense in the country gave up 24 points before halftime (nearly twice their average for a whole game). Their power running game failed to get on track and Driskel was not up to the task of carrying the load.
Then the mental mistakes and frustration set in. Safety Matt Elam lined up and took a helmet-to-helmet shot on a Louisville offensive player that was already on a knee. Following a failed onside kick, another Gator lowered his head into a kneeling Cardinals’ player and another Gator threw a punch on the outskirts of a scrum right in front of the referees. The Florida sideline got an unsportsmanlike conduct for standing in the white of the sidelines (which almost never happens).
All the while, Will Muschamp was losing his mind on the sidelines. His fiery personality boiled over into frustration which reflected in his team’s sloppy play.
The Gators began to rally a bit in the fourth quarter, outscoring Louisville 13-3 in the final fram, as they have done all season long. But it wasn’t enough, as the hole they dug for themselves proved too deep and the Cardinals too disciplined to let the lead slip away.
The Gators came into the game uninterested, thinking that the reputation of representing the SEC would send the Cardinals from the Big East running for the hills. Charlie Strong and Louisville proved why you play the games on the field and not on paper, leading from wire to wire and making Florida look overmatched.
The SEC is considered the best conference in college football, but that isn’t enough when y0u play the best from other leagues and the Louisville Cardinals showed that execution and discipline trumps reputation every time.