Louisville embarrasses Florida
Published: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 1:17 a.m.
NEW ORLEANS — All that late-season momentum gained in Tallahassee a little more than a month ago?
Pretty much forgotten.
All those grand expectations heading into 2013?
Somewhat tempered now.
Hoping to build on their impressive 11-1 regular season, the No. 4 Florida Gators instead self-destructed Wednesday night in the Sugar Bowl in a humbling, mistake-filled 33-23 loss to former UF defensive coordinator Charlie Strong and his heavy underdog Louisville Cardinals (11-2).
“We got out-coached and out-played,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “I thought we had a good week of preparation. We just didn’t play very well, didn’t coach very well.”
It was a meltdown that no one saw coming, especially after the Gators’ 37-26 domination of the Seminoles in their final regular-season game Nov. 24.
But Florida fell back into its same bad habits that led to its only loss in the regular season, to Georgia. Quarterback Jeff Driskel turned the ball over three times (one fumble and two interceptions) and the Gators killed themselves with nine penalties totaling 98 yards.
To the Gators’ credit, as poorly as they played, they still made it a two-score game in the fourth quarter and were still in the game in the closing minutes.
But UF’s last hope died when Driskel was sacked on an attempted two-point conversion following a 5-yard TD pass from Driskel to true freshman tight end Kent Taylor that brought the Gators to within 10 points with 2:13 to play. Driskel directed a 97-yard drive that led to the TD.
The Gators simply made too many mistakes to overcome against an emotionally charged and determined Louisville team that came into this game seeking respect.
“It’s big for our program,” Strong said. “We know where we’re at and where we need to be. If the commitment from the players continues, we feel we can take this program to another level. We hope to continue to build on this.
“On any given night, if you prepare well and play well, you’re going to win.”
While the UF offense hurt itself with turnovers and penalties, the usually strong defense simply had no answer for Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a Miami native who threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns.
“Without a doubt, he is one of the best quarterbacks in the country,” Strong said.
Bridgewater said it was simply a case of the Louisville offense out-executing the Florida defense.
“We had a good game plan and we just executed tonight,” Bridgewater said.
UF’s best offensive player, tailback Mike Gillislee, was no factor with the Gators playing from behind the entire game. He carried the ball only nine times for 48 yards.
The pressure fell on Driskel and the passing game, and the Gators could not produce enough plays to keep up.
Driskel threw for 175 yards and a touchdown, along with the two interceptions. He was under duress much of the night from the Louisville pass rush.
After the game, two of UF’s best defensive players, tackle Sharrif Floyd and safety Matt Elam, announced they are leaving early for the NFL. Tight end Jordan Reed and defensive tackle Dominique Easley said they are still undecided on whether to enter the draft.
The Gators have been notorious for starting off slow in games this season, but they took it to another level Wednesday night, finding themselves in a shocking 24-3 hole late in the first half.
UF’s first offensive play of the game set the negative trend that would continue throughout the night.
Driskel’s slightly errant pass attempt was tipped by wide receiver Andre Debose right into the hands of Louisville cornerback Terrell Floyd, who returned the interception 38 yards for a touchdown to give the Cardinals a 7-0 lead 15 seconds into the game.
Things grew only worse for most of the rest of the first half.
Jeremy Wright scored on a 1-yard run midway through the first quarter to give the Cardinals a 14-0 lead and leave the Gators facing their biggest deficit of the season.
Caleb Sturgis kicked a 33-yard field goal early in the second quarter, but Louisville matched that three points with 8:39 left in the half, then extended the lead to 24-3 on a 15-yard TD pass from Bridgewater to DeVante Parker to put Louisville up 24-3.
Just when it looked like the Gators were about to let the game get completely away, they gained considerable momentum with a 1-yard TD run by Matt Jones with the field goal unit on the field, which cut the deficit to 24-10 with 10 seconds remaining in the first half.
But that momentum was thrown away on the opening kickoff in the second half.
Trying to trick the UL special teams for a second time, the Gators attempted an onside kick. But not only did the Gators fail to recover the kick, they got hit with 30 yards in penalties on two personal foul calls on the play, giving the Cardinals the ball on the UF 19.
On the very next play, Bridgewater threw a TD pass to Damian Copeland to give the Cardinals a stunning 30-10 lead.
Early in the fourth quarter, yet another blunder — a Driskel interception in the end zone — pretty much sealed the victory for the Cardinals.