After last night’s 31-10 Florida State victory in the Orange Bowl, tonight’s Sugar Bowl figures to be another big win for a team from the Sunshine State. Louisville started the year 9-0 before losing two-of-its-last-three games but will be facing a step up in competition against a Florida squad that has four wins over teams in the BCS top-12.
#3 Florida Gators (11-1) vs. #21 Louisville Cardinals (10-2)
Much like last night’s Orange Bowl, this game figures to be a mismatch on paper. Louisville features an ultra-talented quarterback but played a dubious schedule and will be facing an elite Florida team boasting a tough, physical defense. Adding another layer of intrigue to this game is the fact that Louisville coach Charlie Strong was the defensive coordinator for Florida’s past two national championship teams.
Sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sensational for the Cardinals this year, completing 69 percent of his passes for 3,452 yards with 25 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions en route to leading Louisville to its first BCS game since 2007.
However, he’ll have to be at his best against a Gator defense that was third in the country in scoring defense (12.9 points a game) and hellacious on opposing quarterbacks. Florida has yielded only five touchdown passes all year and holds the opposition for only 186 passing yards a game. Heisman Trophy-winner Johnny Manziel had his season-low in passing yardage against Florida. Bridgewater will have his work cut out for him.
On the other side of the ball, Florida likes to hand the ball off early and often to senior running back Mike Gillislee. The All-SEC performer rushed for 1,104 yards and 10 touchdowns and figures to see plenty of action against a Louisville defense that was second-to-last in the Big East at stopping the run, allowing almost 175 yards a game on the ground.
Keys to the Game
Just like the Orange Bowl, this game will revolve around whether the underdog’s offense can get anything going against a stout defense and whether its own defense can hold up against a physical running attack. Northern Illinois was done in by its offense getting dominated by Florida State’s defense. The Huskies couldn’t sustain drives, and eventually, the Seminoles wore down the smaller NIU defense.
Louisville needs to prevent that from happening. Bridgewater & Co. have to string together some first downs to allow the Cardinal defense to rest. Establishing some semblance of a running game will be paramount so that the Gators can’t pin their ears back and get after Bridgewater. If the Cardinals can put up some points and grab the lead, they’ll force Florida to pass the ball, something the Gators are loath to do considering quarterback Jeff Driskel averages less than 20 pass attempts a game and a measly 133.7 yards a game.
For Florida, the recipe is simple. The Gators need to bottle up Bridgewater and pound the rock early and often with Gillislee. Louisville is weak against the run, which plays to Florida’s strength. If the Gators can have success running the football, they can protect Driskel and have some play-action pass opportunities. If they can stop Louisville’s ground game and force the Cardinals to be one-dimensional, then the defense can focus on harassing Bridgewater and making his life miserable.
There’s not much doubt here. Florida is simply too good. Strong will have his team ready to play, but Louisville can’t hang with the Gators for 60 minutes. Louisville’s struggles stopping the run don’t bode well. Florida wins it.