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Overall Game Grade: C
Although it wasn’t certain at the time, quarterback Jeff Driskel’s interception on the first play of the game ended up setting the tone for the Gators in the 2013 Sugar Bowl.
Driskel’s first pass was intercepted by the Cardinals and returned for a touchdown, causing the Gators to go down early. However, by the end of the first quarter, Driskel had the offense moving and looking as if they were about to climb back into the game, despite being down 14-0.
The sophomore completed passes of 14 and 13 yards to Omarius Hines and Mike Gillislee, respectively and also had 10 rushing yards. The Gators were forced to settle for a field goal, and did not return to the red zone until the end of the second quarter.
Just before halftime, Driskel managed to reel off four straight completions to Quinton Dunbar (twice), Frankie Hammond and Hines for 45 yards, before rushing for 24 yards. The drive set up a one-yard touchdown run by Matt Jones.
Although Driskel found success during the second quarter, his best quarter of the game, it did not carry over into the second half.
Driskel was sacked and fumbled to start the third quarter, saw completions to Jordan Reed and Dunbar lead to a punt due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called against the Gators bench and saw the offense pick up just 14 more yards in the quarter.
The fourth quarter saw Driskel get intercepted in the red zone before throwing for 65 yards and giving the Gators at least a chance of climbing back into the game late. However, a sack on the two-point conversion essentially ended any chance for late-game comeback, although the chances were already slim.
Driskel finished the game with 16 completions for 175 yards, as well as one touchdown and two interceptions. The 175 passing yards was Driskel’s highest total since the Gators faced the Georgia Bulldogs in November.
It made sense for the Gators to try and establish their passing game early and not rely completely on the ground game, so as to avoid having to establish a passing attack late with the game on the line.
However, Gillislee and Jones’ longest runs came in the fourth quarter, meaning that Driskel and the passing game were not part of a balanced attack for much of the first half.
Driskel saw his protection break down a few times from the offensive lines and was not able to hit his receivers consistently, but managed to come up with big throws at critical moments while having the most pass attempts in a game in his career.