The day following New Year's will feature a lone bowl game: the Sugar Bowl, pitting Louisville against Florida. Cardinals head coach Charlie Strong makes his BCS game debut against his former employer, where he won two national championships under then-head coach Urban Meyer for the Gators.
Opposing Strong is Florida head coach Will Muschamp, who has quickly revitalized the program with the nation’s elite defensive squad using many of Strong's former players. Both defenses will be highlighted throughout the game.
The key to this game will be if the Louisville run defense will be able to contain Florida running back Mike Gillislee, who became the focal point of the offense with more than 1,100 yards. A simplistic run-first game play propelled the Gators to one of the best SEC rush attacks.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has led the Cardinals to average 31 points a game. Despite injuries that include a broken wrist and sore ankle, he played a major role in Louisville winning the Big East championship. However, due to the speed and strength of this Gator defense, Florida will be able to contain their bowl foes and win convincingly.
The Louisville defense is fortunate they won’t have to be concerned with the Florida passing attack. Unlike their reputation of “Fun-n-Gun” under Steve Spurrier or the spread offense under Meyer, current quarterback Jeff Driskel isn’t a vertical threat.
His role on offense is to protect the ball; he’s rarely asked to make plays. For the season, Driskel has just 1,471 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. Florida's offense finished unbalanced; they ranked just 118th in passing offense nationally, but finished 35th in rushing yards.
Florida’s defense, however, is the strength of the team. The Gator’s D only allowed 20 or more points on three occasions, all victories. In their lone loss, their offense failed to capitalize as they lost at home to Georgia 17-9.
Their defensive line is beastly; defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd could be a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. End Dominique Easely and buck linebacker Lerentee McCray have routinely established pressure on opposing quarterbacks, causing havoc to allow their secondary to make plays.
Despite the continual overhaul and losing key players early to the draft, Florida’s secondary has been sensational all season. Safety Matt Elam earned All-American honors, while the team totaled 19 interceptions throughout the season.
The saving grace for this Cardinals team must be their sophomore quarterback Bridgewater. In only his second year of college ball, he was able to establish himself among the elite young players at his position after posting almost 3,500 yards passing and a fantastic 25-7 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions.
Despite his injuries, Bridgewater led his team through adversity to a BCS berth, completing 71.4 percent of his passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns. Bridgewater must find similar success against a much tougher opponent; he must exceed expectations if the Cardinals have any shot on January 2.
Similarly to Florida, the strength of the Cardinals also lies in their defense. Strong has created a tough unit with a knack for causing turnovers. The defense created 21 turnovers, and as a team they finished plus-nine in the turnover department. Projected simulations show roughly two sacks and 1.5 turnovers for the Louisville defense. If their unit appears on the field the majority of the game, expect inflation in these statistics.
This game appears to be fairly one-sided, and it shows in all the simulation data. The Gator run offense will prove to be too difficult for the Cardinals defense to maintain. I expect Florida to control the game clock and allow few possessions to Bridgewater, limiting Louisville’s potential to keep the game close. I’m not expecting a blowout, but I think Muschamp will get his first BCS bowl victory by the score 31-17, letting the Florida faithful rejoice once again at football glory.
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