Originally posted on Taking Bad Schotz  |  Last updated 1/2/13
OK, this is the game that everyone got so upset about with the announcements of the BCS matchups. Everyone had accepted that the Orange Bowl was going to be terrible, but we were all hopeful that we could get Florida matched against Oklahoma or Clemson. Instead N. Illinois crashed the party and forced the hand of the bowl officials to pull Louisville up to the Sugar Bowl. Now that the game is upon us, we need to look at this as an opportunity to see Florida’s old DC Charlie Strong going up against the Gators.  Strong turned down the opportunity to do that on an annual basis when he passed on the Tennessee job several weeks ago. Aside from the matchup on the sideline, there will be an important matchup on the field as coach-on-the-field QB Teddy Bridgewater attempts to maneuver his way through one of the stingiest defenses in the nation this season. Louisville led the nation this year in red zone scoring percentage (96%), cashing in on 48 of 50 opportunities. Florida was 16th in the nation in red zone defense only allowing opponents to score TDs on 15 out of 32 opportunities. Allstate Sugar Bowl Florida (SEC) vs. Louisville (Big East) (+14.5) January 2nd 8:30 ESPN World, meet QB Teddy Bridgewater and the Louisville Cardinals; the super sophomore quarterback has been one of the best kept secrets of the 2012 college football season. Averaging 288 ypg through the air with 25 TDs and 7 INTs, Bridgewater was the 8th most efficient QB in the nation this year. But the real story of Bridgewater is what he did in the de facto Big East Championship Game at Rutgers on November 29th. The sophomore quarterback willed his team to victory with a bad elbow (non-throwing arm) and an injured leg. It was a heroic performance and after that game you have to believe that everyone on that team is willing to put it on the line for their team. HC Charlie Strong calls Bridgewater the most intelligent player he has ever coached and he is given full reign in calling audibles in response to defensive formations. The two losses on the season by the Cardinals were directly related to Bridgewater’s victories and the past month should give him the opportunity to heal and be at least close to 100%. The other problem that Louisville must iron out from their late season dip was a suddenly porous secondary. Defense is Charlie Strong’s specialty and he should be able to correct these issues over the break. Remember, this team started out the season 9-0 before dropping two straight games to Syracuse and UConn. The Florida Gators are no doubt disappointed that they fell short of winning the east division of the SEC and didn’t get their shot against Alabama or Notre Dame. There was a push to try to convince voters that they had a better resume than Alabama and should be considered to play Notre Dame for the National Championship. Of course, the one thing that their resume was lacking was the SEC Championship trophy that Alabama was still hoisting over their heads on Sunday evening. Florida exceeded expectations this year and almost ran a brutal mid-season stretch of games against LSU, S. Carolina, and Georgia in October. They fell short against Georgia in what was one of the ugliest games that I witnessed this season (9 total turnovers with the Gators committing 6 of those). They even beat Texas A&M in week 2 which nobody thought much about at the time. Finishing the season with a road win against Florida St., there is little doubt that they collected the most impressive wins on the season or that they are very deserving of being ranked 3rd and playing in the Sugar Bowl. What to Expect: Will Florida find a consistent passing game during bowl practices or will it just look that way against the Louisville secondary. Here’s hoping that Charlie Strong takes the roller skates off his DBs for the big bowl game. Muschamp and Strong were two of the most popular coordinator-turned-head coaches in the past few years and both of their teams have a tendency to play very mistake-prone football. Will either of these teams show up to play a clean game for the bowl? Sophomore quarterbacks Jeff Driskell (Florida) and Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville) offer an interesting matchup of gun slingers in the Sugar Bowl and I’ll put my money on Bridgewater. Anyone who actually saw the Cardinals play Rutgers knows that this kid has heart. He was playing on one leg and had an injured elbow and was the only reason they won the game against the Scarlet Knights. He should have time to get healthy and will give that Gator defense fits. The Florida Gator defense is fairly irrelevant in this matchup. That might sound funny, but considering the offense barely produced 4000 yards on the season (ranked 108th out of 120 FBS schools), the story has been their ability to shut other teams down on defense. For what it is worth on offense, sophomore QB Jeff Driskel completed 64% of his passes on the year for less than 1500 yds and 11 TDs against 3 INTs. The workhorse on the offense is senior RB Mike Gillislee who rushed for over 1100 yards and 10 TDs on the year, which was good enough to rank him 42nd in the nation with 92 ypg. The Gator defense was one of the best units in the nation this year. There is room to move the ball and earn yards between the 20s through the air against them, but they are stingy when it comes to allowing teams to score through the air and their secondary is full of ball hawks led by junior SS Matt Elam. On the year, the defense allowed a paltry 5 TDs through the air and had 19 interceptions while allowing less than 100 ypg on the ground. Good luck finding a way to move the ball against Florida. This will be by far Bridgewater and Louisville’s biggest test of the year but HC Charlie Strong should have them prepared. Bridgewater uses a short and controlled passing game to methodically move the ball down the field which usually makes the pass rush irrelevant. Junior RBs Jeremy Wright and Senorise Perry help to balance out the Cardinals attack, combining for over 1400 yards and 20 TDs on the year. The game will come down to Bridgewater’s ability to exploit the Florida defense. Ball security will be the key for the Cardinals as they will have very little room for error against that terrific defense for the Gators. In the end, the Gators will pull out another BCS game for the SEC but expect the Cardinals to keep it close. Florida wins 28-17.
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