Notebook: UF debacle started early


Florida Gators tight end Jordan Reed drops a pass in the end zone against the Louisville Cardinals during the first half of the Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013 in New Orleans, La. (Matt Stamey/Staff photographer)

The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 12:37 a.m.

NEW ORLEANS — During preparation for the Sugar Bowl, Florida coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease said one thing the Gators need to work on heading into next season is getting off to faster, and better, starts.

That was obvious again Wednesday night in the Sugar Bowl.

The Gators could not have gotten off to a worse start against 14-point underdog Louisville.

It went downhill fast and early.

On the first offensive play of the game, Jeff Driskel threw a pass behind Andre Debose that Debose tipped right into the hands of UL cornerback Terrell Floyd, who returned it 38 yards for a touchdown.

It only got worse from there.

By the end of the first quarter, the Gators were already facing their biggest deficit of the season, trailing 14-0.

With only 2:57 left in the half, UF found itself on the brink, falling behind 24-3. UF managed to take seven points off that deficit in the closing seconds of the first half to stay within reach.

For the offense to start slowly is not unusual.

What was unusual is how lost the defense seemed early and often against the Louisville passing attack.

By the time the carnage was over in the half, the Gators had given up 180 yards passing to Teddy Bridgewater, who completed 12 of his 17 attempts.

Second-half disaster, too

As bad as the start of the game was for the Gators, the start of the second half may have been worse.

The Gators tried to trick the Cardinals with an onside kick, but the ball was recovered by UL and the Gators were hit with two personal foul penalties on the play. One UF player, Chris Johnson, was ejected from the game.

Starting the half from the UF 19, the Cardinals scored on the first play on a pass from Bridgewater to Damian Copeland to go up 30-10.

Then on the ensuing kickoff, starting cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy was injured on a big-time hit and had to be helped to the locker room. ESPN reported Purifoy suffered a leg injury.

Questionable color combination?

The Gators went with a very unusual uniform color combination Wednesday night, electing to wear blue jerseys and orange pants. The last time UF went with the look was the 1999 Florida State game at Florida Field, a Gator loss.

Ten years before that, in 1989, the Gators wore blue tops and orange pants, and they lost at home to Florida State.

After their disastrous start Wednesday night, the Gators might want to hang up that color combination for good.

Emmitt addresses the Gators

NFL all-time rushing leader and former Gator star tailback Emmitt Smith attended Florida’s walk-through at the Superdome on Tuesday and spoke to the players at the end of the workout.

Smith told Gatorzone.com on Tuesday that he’s impressed with the job Will Muschamp is doing.

“I think he’s done a helluva job,” Smith said. “He really has. He’s come in and turned the program around and got the guys believing in his system, playing for one another and playing for him. That’s what you’re supposed to do — inspire your players. I think he’s done a wonderful job with that, especially considering the odds that were against him and the projection of where this team was supposed to be going into the fall.

“He was coming into a situation with the letdown of Urban (Meyer) leaving and depletion of some talent, but at the end of the day he’s more than held his own. He’s excelled.”

Smith said he likes the way Muschamp leads.

“He’s been very consistent with his words, his actions, what he expects and his standards,” Smith said. “Very consistent. He has not wavered one way, and I think that’s what the players have bought into.”

Championship QBs

All three Florida national championship quarterbacks were in attendance Wednesday night: Wuerffel, Chris Leak and Tim Tebow.

Wuerffel and Smith represented Florida during the ceremonial coin toss before the 79th Sugar Bowl. Louisville was represented by boxing legend Muhammad Ali and former Cardinals/NFL linebacker Tom Jackson.

Several other former Gator players were on the UF sideline Wednesday night, including tailback Terry Jackson and strong safety Lawrence Wright.

Members of the UF band chanted Tebow’s name when he came out of the tunnel about 40 minutes before kickoff.

Bowl gifts

Louisville and Florida received bowl gifts of a Fossil watch, a New Era cap and a Boxer & Stone hoodie.

The NCAA allows each bowl to provide up to $550 in gifts to 125 participants per school. Schools can buy additional packages to participants beyond the 125 limit. Also, the school and the conference can each provide bowl gifts up to $400 each. This includes conference championship games as well as bowl games.

Long pregame buildup

Several players, including wide receiver Frankie Hammond Jr., said earlier in the week that they prefer day games because waiting around the hotel all day for a night game can be quite tedious.

On Tuesday, with the final full practice out of the way, Muschamp offered a preview of how the Gators would spent their last two days leading up to Wednesday night’s game.

“We'll go have a team meeting here at noon (on Tuesday),” he said. “We'll have special teams meeting, entire unit, then break up offense and defense. We'll bus to the Superdome and have a normal Friday walkthrough, come back to the hotel, have dinner and meetings and walkthroughs tonight. We don't go to a movie or anything. Our guys, they'd rather just stay at the hotel.

“Get up in the morning and have some more meetings and walkthroughs and then eat some brunch and have some more meetings and walkthroughs and go to the stadium and play the game. We don't leave anything to chance. Just in case they might forget something before kickoff.”

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