79th Annual Allstate Sugar Bowl ~ January 2, 2013
#21 Louisville 33 (Final: 11-2, #13)
#3 Florida 23 (Final: 11-2, #9)
It was no fluke. This Sugar Bowl belonged to Louisville from start to finish. Terrell Floyd’s 38-yard interception return on the game’s first play set the tone; and the Gators never fully recovered.
“I cannot tell a lie,” Floyd said of his snare of a deflected ball. “I was just in the right place at the right time.”
How Louisville and Florida Met in the 2013 Allstate Sugar Bowl
It was 14-0 after Louisville’s first offensive possession, when star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who constantly bought time with nimble foot work throughout the night, and completed 10 of his first 11 passes, drove his team 83 yards to the Florida 1, where Jeremy Wright scored on the ground. From then on, the Gators could get no closer than the 10-point margin in which the 79th Sugar Bowl ended.
The Cardinals soared to a 24-10 halftime lead, and so flummoxed were the Gators that they started the second half with an on-sides kick – unsuccessful, and made worse with two personal fouls on Florida. Bridgewater connected with Damon Copeland in the end zone and Louisville had a 30-10 lead 12 seconds into the second half.
Florida would miss a pair of field goals, making its task harder, but after John Wallace kicked a 30-yard field goal for the Cardinals in the fourth quarter, Gator speedster Andre Debose returned the kickoff 100 yards to keep Florida within range of a football miracle.
With time starting to run out, Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel – recruited over Bridgewater two years before – guided his team 97 yards. With 2:13 remaining Driskel hit Kent Taylor with a two-yard touchdown pass.
The Gators had scored 13 fourth-quarter points and now had an outside chance to make up a 10-point deficit and stave off an embarrassing defeat.
Improbably, they would need a two-point conversion at this point, then a successful on-sides kick, another touchdown and another two-point conversion to send the game into overtime – and avoid the stigma of becoming the biggest favorite ever to lose, not only in the Sugar but in any of the major postseason pairings in the 15-year BCS era.
Driskel took the snap and rolled out to look for another open receiver. But defensive back Marcus Smith shot in untouched and sacked Driskel – effectively ending the game, securing the 22rd-ranked Cardinals’ greatest victory and dooming No. 3 Florida to a humiliating setback.
“That was our statement!” screamed Smith immediately afterward.
In the end, Louisville outhit, outsmarted, and out-executed its more heralded opponents for the entire night. After the 24-10 halftime lead, the Cardinals never allowed the Gators to muster one of their patented second-half surges.
The discombobulated Gators turned the ball over three times, and committed nine penalties for 98 yards, including one on their bench for unsportsmanlike conduct.
On this night Bridgewater thoroughly outplayed the quarterback the Gators signed instead of him (Driskel was 16-of-29 for 179 yards with a pair of costly interceptions). Bridgewater was 20-of-32 for 206 yards and two touchdowns.
“He was the best player on the field,” Strong said simply.
“I don’t even feel like I’m here right now, ” Cardinals senior center Mario Benavideo said with confetti raining down from the Superdome ceiling. “It’s so unreal. . . . 90 percent of the people thought we didn’t belong. My mom and dad were in the 10 percent.”
Louisville cornerback Andrew Johnson, who had one of two interceptions of Driskel, exaulted, “Winning this game is making history.”
The game opened with a memorable coin toss as Florida was represented by the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith, and 1997 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel, while Louisville was represented by former football great Tom Jackson, as well as the man known as “The Greatest of All-Time,” Louisville native Muhammad Ali.
Recap by Sugar Bowl historian Marty Mulé, an award-winning sportswriter who covered college football and the Sugar Bowl for the New Orleans Times-Picayune for 33 years.