Louisville Cardinals Defeat Florida Gators, 33-23, in 79th Allstate Sugar Bowl Classic park
By Matt Mendelson
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NEW ORLEANS – The Louisville Cardinals (11-2) defeated the Florida Gators (11-2), 33-23, in the 79th Allstate Sugar Bowl Classic on Wednesday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was the Miller-Digby Award recipient honoring the game's most valuable player as he completed 20-of-32 passes for 266 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Running back Jeremy Wright rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown while also catching three passes for 19 yards.
The win improved the Cardinals to 14-0 under head coach Charlie Strong when scoring 30 or more points with seven of those victories coming during the 2012-13 season.
"It's big for our program," said Strong. "We feel like we can take this program to another level."
"The game ball goes to all of these people behind me, the fans. It's big for our program. We feel like we can take this program to another level."
The Gators made their ninth appearance in the game, tied for the third most (Georgia) all-time, only behind Alabama and LSU (13). Florida is now 3-6 in Sugar Bowl outings.
The Cardinals entered the game as the 50th team to play in a Sugar Bowl and were able to knock off their SEC opponent who was looking for its second consecutive Sugar Bowl win against a Big East Conference school.
The Gators were able to score on three of their four trips in the red zone and also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. The defense forced three turnovers and sacked Bridgewater five times but it was not enough to counter the team's setbacks as Florida went 3-of-10 on third down and was penalized nine times for a total of 98 yards.
"We got outcoached and outplayed," said Florida head coach Will Muschamp. "Third downs killed us. Credit to them and their organization. They deserved to win."
The Cardinals were able to get off to very quick start as cornerback Terrell Floyd intercepted a pass thrown by Gator quarterback Jeff Driskel on the game's first play from scrimmage. Floyd was able to reach out and make the pick off the hands of a Florida receiver and return the ball 38 yards the other way for the first score of the game with just 15 seconds off the clock. The defensive score was Louisville's first of the season and provided the Cardinals with a lead they would not relinquish.
The play was the first defensive score to open a Sugar Bowl contest since 1942 when Fordham was able to record a first-quarter safety in a 2-0 victory over Missouri.
After forcing a Gator punt, the Cardinals orchestrated a 12-play, 83-yard drive led by Bridgewater who went four-for-five for 66 yards, while also adding a 12-yard rush, on the team's first offensive possession. Louisville added to their lead with a one-yard touchdown run by Wright. Kicker John Wallace was able to add the extra point to give the red-and-black a 14-point advantage at the end of the first quarter.
Florida tallied their first points of the contest early in the second quarter. The Gators moved the ball down the field slowly on a 12-play, 66-yard, drive that took 6:51 off the clock. The possession resulted in a 33-yard field goal by kicker Caleb Sturgis.
The kick made Sturgis Florida's single season leader in field goals (24), giving him possession of three of the team's top four single-season marks.
Louisville's offense continued to move the chains with ease and answered right back with their own field goal as Wallace booted a 27-yard kick through the uprights halfway into the second quarter to bring the lead back to two touchdowns.
The Cardinals added another score before the half as Bridgewater was able to move into Gator territory with long passes of 24 yards to wide receiver Andrell Smith and 17 yards to wideout DeVante Parker. Bridgewater capped off the drive with a 15-yard scoring strike to Parker following a Florida penalty to hand the Gators their largest deficit ever in a Sugar Bowl, 21 points (24-3).
The 24 points was the most scored by Louisville in the first half of a bowl game since they recorded 24 in a 34-31 loss to Boise State in the 1999 Humanitarian Bowl.
Louisville left too much time on the clock for Driskel and the Gators though as the quarterback threw for 45 yards and rushed for another 24 to put Florida in scoring position before the half. The Cardinals played well in the redzone, forcing the Gators to face a fourth down on the goal line, but RB Matt Jones was able to convert for a score, carrying the football up the middle with just 10 seconds remaining in the first half. The touchdown put the Gators behind just two touchdowns at the end of the first half, 24-10.
The Cardinals were able to start the second half just as quick with the help of a couple of penalties. Florida attempted an onside kick to start the third quarter but Louisville was able to recover and the Gators were charged with two personal fouls on the play to set up the Cardinals with excellent field position. On the first play, Bridgewater was able to find receiver Damian Copeland for a 19-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the endzone. The extra point was blocked but the score pushed the lead to 30-10.
Louisville was able to force their second turnover of the day when safety Calvin Pryor came from the left side to sack Driskel who fumbled the football while taking a loss of 17 yards. Defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin was able to recover the fumble at the Florida four-yard line but the Gators made a few big plays when forced to start deep inside their own territory.
Florida forced the Cardinals to negative yardage on three consecutive plays, including two sacks of Bridgewater for a loss of 20 yards. The play pushed Louisville back far enough that Wallace was forced to attempt a 43-yard field goal that he missed wide left.
Later in the third quarter, Bridgewater and the Cardinals offense was able once again able to move deep into Florida territory but the Gators continued to play well in the redzone in the second half. Wallace was forced to kick a 26-yard field goal but a penalty moved him back 15-yards. Wallace's 41-yard try was blocked by Sharrif Floyd and the ball was returned to the Gators.
The Florida defense helped close the gap in the turnover battle at the end of the third quarter when a Bridgewater pass was intercepted by safety Josh Evans and returned seven yards into Cardinals' territory.
Driskel and the Gators converted their first third-down of the game to reach the redzone but the quarterback was intercepted on a pass in the endzone by CB Andrew Johnson who returned the ball back to the Louisville 21-yard line in the beginning of the game's final period.
Louisville was able to add more points off Florida turnovers as the team marched 65 yards down the field on 11 plays to set up a 30-yard field goal by Wallace that gave the Cardinals a 33-10 advantage midway through the third quarter.
Gators wide receiver Andre Debose returned the kickoff 100 yards from his own goal line for a Florida touchdown on the next play. The return was the longest in Sugar Bowl history and tied for the longest in BCS history.
Later in the fourth quarter, a Louisville punt forced the Gators to take possession of the ball at their own three-yard line. Florida then went on a 13-play, 97-yard drive that lasted 3:46. Driskel capped off the drive with a five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kent Taylor. Driskel was unable to convert the two-point conversion and the Cardinals recovered the onside kick ending Florida's hopes for a chance at a comeback.
Louisville ran out the remainder of the clock to come away with a 33-23 Sugar Bowl victory.