Sugar Bowl storylines
Published: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 1:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 2:53 p.m.
TONIGHT'S GAME QUESTIONS
1. Will the Gators be able to establish their running game early against a Louisville run defense that is giving up more than 150 yards a game on the ground?
2. Can the UF defensive front put steady pressure on Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and keep him from getting into a rhythm in the passing game?
3. The UF offense came to life in the FSU game against the nation's No. 1 defense. Will the Gators build on that performance or go back to their struggling ways on offense?
4. Who wins the matchup between the Florida defensive backs and the Louisville wide receivers?
5. Who wins the all-important special teams battle?
While Florida has suffered its share of losses at the Superdome in New Orleans, the Gators have also had some special moments, too. In the 1996 Sugar Bowl, Florida trounced rival Florida State, 52-20, to capture the first national championship in school history. Fourteen years later, in 2010, the Gators said goodbye to Heisman and two-time national championship-winning quarterback Tim Tebow at the Superdome. Tebow had his best day as a college quarterback against Cincinnati that day, throwing for 482 yards and 3 TDs.
READY FOR TEDDY?
UF's defense is preparing to face another top-level quarterback in Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. The Cardinals' signal-caller is ranked No. 8 in the country in passing efficiency. The sophomore has thrown for 3,452 yards with 25 TDs to 7 interceptions. But as dangerous as Bridgewater is through the air, the Gators shouldn't have to worry much about his legs. The QB has 43 yards on 67 carries for the season.
LOOKING OUT FOR NO. 2
The Gators began the season ranked 23rd in the AP poll with a tough schedule and virtually no hype. But after starting the season 6-0 with two impressive early-season road wins (Tennessee, Texas A&M) and a home win against a top-5 team (LSU), the Gators were ranked No. 2 in the initial BCS standings behind Alabama. Florida would hold the ranking for two weeks before losing to Georgia and dropping to No. 7. The Gators climbed back to the top of the polls late in the season, though, and came within a Notre Dame loss to Southern Cal of making the BCS title game. Notre Dame plays Alabama in Miami on Jan. 7, but if the Gators can get a big win over Louisville tonight, they could jump current AP No. 3 Ohio State and the BCS Championship loser and finish the season ranked No. 2. That would equal Florida's highest ranking in any of the polls all season, and represent a 21-spot jump from where it was in the preseason.
SWEET SENIOR SEND-OFF
This game will be special for Florida's senior class, and especially for the 11 members who contributed to the Gators' 51-24 win over Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl following the 2009 season. Offensive lineman Xavier Nixon actually started the game as a true freshman, but others got in on the action as well. Most notable were kicker Caleb Sturgis' field goal and six extra points and tailback Mike Gillislee's 78 yards rushing, which led the Gators. Safety Josh Evans, center Sam Robey, linebacker Jon Bostic, offensive linemen Nick Alajajian and James Wilson, receiver Frankie Hammond Jr., tight end Omarius Hines and defensive lineman Omar Hunter also made it onto the field that day. Adrian Bushell also played in that game as a freshman for the Gators. Bushell, now a senior, will be on the field today, too, but as a member of the Cardinals after transferring in 2010.
CARDINALS HAVE LOTS OF FLORIDA FLAVOR
When Charlie Strong left Urban Meyer's staff after the 2009 season to become the head coach at Louisville, he probably did not envision coaching against the Gators any time soon. But it's happening in his third season, ironically enough, in the same place where he served as UF's defensive coordinator for the last time. Strong's defense was one of the strongest in the nation in 2009, and it helped the Gators rout Cincinnati 51-24 in the Sugar Bowl. Now, Strong will be trying to come up with ways to stifle the Florida offense tonight. He won't be the only familiar face on the opposing sideline. Former UF defensive backs coach Vance Bedford is the Cardinals' defensive coordinator and UL strength and conditioning coordinator Pat Moorer is a former UF player and assistant strength coach. Many more on the UL sideline also will be familiar with the Gators. There are a whopping 34 players from the state of Florida on the UL roster.
RIVALRY GAME FOR ELAM?
Three of the Florida players on the Louisville roster were once Gators — starting cornerback Adrian Bushell, tight end Gerald Christian and wide receiver Robert Clark. Bushell did not make it academically at UF and eventually ended up at Louisville. Christian and Clark were part of Urban Meyer's final UF recruiting class and apparently did not feel they fit in with Will Muschamp and the new staff and made the move to Louisville a year ago. Although Christian and Clark are redshirting this season and will not be eligible to play in tonight's game, All-America Florida safety Matt Elam apparently is jacked about going against his former Palm Beach Dwyer teammates in the Sugar Bowl. Elam has Tweeted several times how fired up he is about this game and taking on his old friends. He also may be juiced because this could be his last game as a Gator. He's one of four UF juniors contemplating an early exit to the NFL. The others are defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, tight end Jordan Reed and outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins.
NOT A TYPICAL STRONG DEFENSE
At Florida (and Notre Dame and South Carolina), Strong had an aggressive, attacking defense that would shut down the run and then bring the pressure against opposing quarterbacks. His scheme and approach are the same at Louisville, but this Cardinals' defense has not played much like the good defenses Strong has had in the past. UL is giving up more than 150 yards a game on the ground and 344.8 total yards a game. And four times this season, the Cardinals have given up more than 30 points in a game.
NOT MUCH HISTORY IN PLAY
Despite the many current connections between Florida and Louisville, the two programs share very little history. The Gators and Cardinals are playing each other in football for only the third time tonight in the Sugar Bowl. This meeting is a lot different — and a lot bigger — than the previous two. In 1980, the Gators shut out the unranked Cardinals 13-0 in Gainesville for homecoming. In 1992, Louisville was UF's homecoming opponent again, and the Gators beat the Cardinals 31-17. This third meeting is between two ranked teams in a BCS bowl game.