The Louisville Cardinals face the toughest test of the season Wednesday when they take on the Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. There are a few items that the Cardinals must focus on if they plan on upsetting a strong Florida team.
Louisville walked away with the Big East title this season, but it didn’t come easily with losses to Syracuse and Connecticut coming late in the year. Louisville was able to push through Cincinnati and Rutgers to take home the title.
To get past Florida there will be three specific focal points that have to come through for the Cardinals. Teddy Bridgewater needs a big game, Driskel must be contained in the pocket and the Cardinals have to get over the national-stage aura.
If Charlie Strong can get his guys to bring an intent approach to the game, they stand a solid chance at pulling off the upset. Here is a look at the three things that the Cardinals must do to upset the mighty Florida Gators.
Teddy Bridgewater has to Find Rhythm Early
One constant for Louisville this season has been Bridgewater. Without a fast start from the offensive leader, the Cardinals will struggle to find a way to win.
Florida will bring the No. 5 total defense, No. 13 pass defense and the No. 1 pass efficiency defense to New Orleans to battle Bridgewater and the Cardinals offense.
This will be the toughest test of the young Louisville quarterback's career. The Gators will be looking to use their experienced secondary to mask coverage and blitzes, creating mismatches and forcing quick decisions from Bridgewater.
Bridgewater will not be alone in his attack on the Florida defense with Jeremy Wright looking for yards behind Bridgewater. Wright joined Senorise Perry this season in the backfield gaining 1,445 yards on the ground this fall.
The Gators are No. 6 this year against the run and the Cardinals are the No. 98 rushing offense. Those numbers don’t mix well, so despite a valiant effort this season from Perry and Wright, the Cardinals will not be able to lean on the ground game.
Perry is out with a season ending injury, and Wright won't be able to do it alone.
For Louisville to be successful it has to find ways to get Bridgewater rolling early. Put easy throws and screens in the game early, with a few deep tosses that are either caught or in no man’s land.
Without an early rhythm, the Cardinals will lose big.
Force the Pass from Driskel
Jeff Driskel has been a solid answer to the Gators offensive issues this year, but he won’t be the most daunting passer that this Cardinals team has played against.
What makes Driskel dangerous is his ability to find room in the ground game and make plays from nothing. Driskel is as important to Florida’s success as Bridgewater is to Louisville, but they bring much different approaches to the field.
If the Cardinals can force the Gators to pass often with Driskel, they stand a solid chance at a win.
Keeping Driskel contained won’t be easy, but junior Marcus Smith and Co. should be able to bring some pressure and limit Driskel’s ground attack.
Florida State was the last team that was able to keep Driskel at bay. In five games with less than 10 yards rushing, Driskel has not had a game with more than 200 yards of total offense.
Three of those games he had less than 100 yards of total offense. If the Cardinals can find the same recipe for success against Driskel and keep him to limited ground production, they have a great chance at outscoring the Gators in this game.
Don’t Get Overwhelmed by the Stage
One of the biggest factors in big games is the stage that these teams are placed on. Right now, the Cardinals have been through a gamut of new experiences with this game.
There have been media interviews that have never been so intense or frequent, ESPN highlights and trips and appearances that make the teams feel like temporary rock stars.
Do the Cardinals have a shot to beat the Gators?
Florida is a team that has a ton of tradition and has played in a BCS bowl six times—this being the seventh. This will be Louisville’s second appearance on this stage.
This is a game that will be in the record books forever and will be remembered on the Louisville campus win or lose. That is a lot of weight for these guys to carry on their shoulders. It is a huge responsibility for the young Bridgewater.
This will be a huge game for the Cardinals and Strong, but a win is within reach. If they can keep the focus and meet these three keys to the game, Louisville will walk away with a 2-0 record in the BCS.