New Orleans, LA (Sports Network) - The 79th annual Sugar Bowl will kick off
Wednesday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome when the Louisville Cardinals
take on the Florida Gators.
Louisville got off to a red-hot start to the season with wins in each of its
first eight games, highlighted by a 45-35 road triumph over Pittsburgh on Oct.
13 and a 34-31 overtime victory versus Cincinnati on Oct 26. Despite dropping
back-to-back November games to Syracuse (45-26) and UConn (23-20 in OT), the
Cardinals were able to clinch their third Big East title in the regular-season
finale with a 20-17 road win over Rutgers. This is the fifth 10-win season for
the Cardinals, who have made one previous appearance in a BCS bowl game,
beating Wake Forest in the 2007 Orange Bowl, 24-14.
"We're really excited to be here and represent the Big East Conference at the
Sugar Bowl," head coach Charlie Strong said. "If you look at our season, it's
a tribute to our players and the resiliency they've had all season long. We
started three years ago building a foundation for this team and we're really
excited about the direction it's headed. We know we're playing an excellent
team in the University of Florida, but we're happy and we're excited. It's
great for the University of Louisville, the city of Louisville, and for our
Florida's outstanding season included wins over nationally-ranked foes Texas
A&M (20-17), LSU (14-6), South Carolina (44-11), and Florida State (37-26). It
faced a treacherous road in the SEC, meaning its lone loss to Eastern Division
rival Georgia (17-9) on Oct. 27 prevented it from participating in the
conference championship game. Still, the Gators boasted the strongest at-large
resume in the country, which allowed them to qualify for their seventh BCS
bowl appearance, their first since the 2010 Sugar Bowl, which they won 51-24
"We have a special team and they deserve a special night," head coach Will
Muschamp said. "You're talking about being the sixth team in (UF) history --
which has a pretty good tradition -- (with a chance at) 12 wins, which is
huge. It's an opportunity to be ranked in the top five or three in the
country. We understand those things are very important to our program as we
continue to move forward."
Florida has defeated Louisville in both previous meetings between the
programs, claiming home matchups in 1980 and 1992.
Louisville's offensive attack, which scores 31.0 ppg, is heavily reliant on
the passing game, which racks up more than 298.6 ypg (24th in the nation).
Spearheading the offense is the Cardinals' star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater,
who has emerged as one of the country's best signal-callers in his sophomore
season. The Big East Player of the Year is completing an outstanding 69
percent of his pass attempts for 3,452 yards, throwing for 25 touchdowns to
just seven interceptions. His 161.6 passing efficiency is tops in the Big East
and eighth in the nation.
Bridgewater spreads the ball out to several receivers, with five players
grabbing at least 30 receptions. Damian Copeland (597 yards) leads the corps
with 48 receptions, while DeVante Parker made the most of his 38 receptions,
piling up 712 yards (18.7 ypc) and nine touchdowns, which was enough to earn
him First Team All-Big East honors.
Louisville is more than just a passing team. In fact, it has a near perfect
split between passing (424) and rushing (426) attempts. Sharing duties in the
backfield is Jeremy Wright (740 yards) and Senorise Perry (705 yards), who
have combined for 20 touchdowns.
While the Cardinals haven't been great on defense, they've been plenty good
enough to win in the Big East, allowing teams to score 23.8 ppg on 344.8 ypg.
Cornerback Adrian Bushell (59 tackles) was named First Team All-Big East after
recording an interception and three fumble recoveries. Preston Brown (96
tackles, INT) and Calvin Pryor (94 tackles, two INTs) also had fine seasons.
While Louisville is reliant on the aerial attack, Florida has found its
success on offense (26.8 ppg) behind a great ground game that racks up 194.5
Mike Gillislee put together a fantastic season at running back, gaining 1,104
rushing yards, 146 receiving yards, and 11 total touchdowns en route to being
named to the All-SEC First Team.
Jeff Driskel hasn't done much damage through the air (1,471 yards), but he's
completing nearly 65 percent of his passes and has tossed 11 touchdowns to
just three interceptions. He's also a big factor with his legs, rushing for
another 409 yards and four scores.
Driskel's favorite target in the passing game is First Team All-SEC tight end
Jordan Reed, who caught 44 balls for 552 yards and three touchdown. Quinton
Dunbar (306 yards, four TDs) and Frankie Hammond (273 yards, three TDs) have
also had their moments.
Although an efficient offense has certainly helped, the primary reason for the
Gators' outstanding year was their stout defense. In a conference full of
great defensive units, Florida was able to stand out by ranking fifth in the
country in yards allowed per game (283.4) and third in points allowed (12.9).
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (41 tackles, 11 TFL) and safety Matt Elam (65
tackles, 10 TFL, four INTs) were given First-Team all-SEC honors, while
cornerback Marcus Roberson (two INTs, 12 pass breakups) was anointed to the
Second-Team. Not to be lost in the shuffle is Josh Evans (79 tackles, two
INTs) and Jon Bostic (62 tackles, three sacks, two INTs), two players that
brought invaluable senior leadership to the squad.
Louisville comes into this matchup as a clear underdog, but Strong knows that
once his team hits the field, all that matters is what shows up during the
"When you think about teams that are the favorites or the underdogs, at the
end of the day, you still have to go and play the game," he said. "With us,
it's all about fundamentals and technique. We're going to practice each and
every day, so let's take care of that business. We're going to go play this
game, but if we're not prepared and we're not locked it and we're not focuses,
it doesn't really matter."
The Sports Network