Sugar Bowl breakdown
Published: Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 9:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 24, 2012 at 8:21 a.m.
Taking a closer look at Florida's Sugar Bowl matchup with Louisville.
What's at stake
After going 7-6 and finishing the season out of the top 25 a year ago, the Gators have a chance to become only the sixth team in school history to win 12 games, which likely would give UF a top-three finish in the final polls and generate all kinds of momentum heading into the 2013 season. For Louisville, playing in only its second BCS bowl game, this is a chance for a signature win that would be a tremendous boost for coach Charlie Strong's rising program.
Bowl games tend to be much different than regular-season games. There's the week on the road, the party atmosphere and the fact that this is a reward for a successful season and not a must-win game like in conference play. The team that keeps its focus and intensity throughout the week and comes in treating this like a rivalry game likely is going to win the game. So, the bowl practices in New Orleans (and what happens at night on Bourbon Street) are a big barometer for both teams.
How the Gators win
Florida's No. 1 defensive goal going into every game is to stop the run and make the opposing offense one-dimensional. That won't change in this game, even though the Cardinals have a great passing game led by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. If the Gators keep Bridgewater in obvious passing situations, the UF defense is going to come up with game-changing sacks and interceptions, and take the pressure off its own offense. In the two other phases of the game, the Gators need to be consistent on offense, have success on third down and score on every trip into the red zone, while the special teams must win their phase of the game as they usually do.
How the Gators lose
The first and most important factor is obvious. The Gators lost one game in 2012 and that came when they turned the ball over six times against Georgia. If the Gators have trouble taking care of the ball against a fast and aggressive Louisville defense, UF will go down just like it did against Georgia. Another factor will be how seriously the Gators take an opponent from the Big East. If they don't come out and play with the same intensity they did in SEC games, the Gators will get knocked around pretty good by a hungry Louisville team with a lot to prove.
Three players the Gators must stop
The No. 1 guy on the list is Bridgewater, who has thrown for 3,452 yards and 25 touchdowns this season while completing 69 percent of his passes. He's a team leader, plays with a lot of confidence and can make plays with both his arm and his legs. The Gators need to keep him in the pocket and prevent him from scrambling around and hitting some big plays down the field. Bridgewater's most dangerous target is wide receiver DeVante Parker, who has caught nine touchdown passes and averages 18.7 yards a reception. He'll see lots of man-to-man coverage, so the UF corners (Jaylen Watkins, Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson) are going to have to be on their game and focused. UF also must stop the run, which means stopping tailback Jeremy Wright, who has rushed for 740 yards and nine touchdowns. He's rushed for more than 100 yards in three games and gives the Cardinals excellent balance.
Three Gators who must play well
Sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel needs to play like he did in UF's biggest wins this season (LSU, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Florida State). That means managing the game, taking care of the ball (something he did not do vs. Georgia) and hitting some crucial passes to keep drives alive. He doesn't need to throw for a whole lot of yards for the Gators to be successful. Tailback Mike Gillislee had a hot hand in the win over FSU and is UF's most important offensive player. When the Gators get him going in the ground game, it takes the pressure off Driskel and brings the play-action passes into play. If he's on, the Gators will be tough to beat. With Bridgewater's ability to make things happen, the Gators biggest playmaker in the secondary — safety Matt Elam — has a chance to be a game-changer in this one. He's come up with big interceptions this season and also is a major factor in UF's strong run defense.