It’s a funny thing about bowl season: Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you realize you’ve actually seen nothing at all. College football fans were given a refresher in exactly that on Wednesday night, in Louisville’s shocking 33-24 Sugar Bowl win over Florida.
The sad thing for Florida fans is that this game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score might indicate. Not from the very first play of the game.
That’s because on that play- the very first one from scrimmage mind you- Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel dropped back to pass… and had his throw tipped right into the waiting arms of Louisville defensive back Terrell Floyd. Floyd intercepted the ball and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown and just like that, 15 seconds into the game, Louisville had a lead they would never relinquish.
From then on, the rest of the game essentially turned into a coronation for the present and future of Louisville’s program. Charlie Strong and his staff had an answer for pretty much everything Florida threw at them Wednesday night, with the former Gators’ defensive coordinator out-dueling the man who got the head job in Gainesville one year after Strong left town. Simply put, Wednesday was Louisville’s night and Louisville’s moment.
On offense, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater showed casual college football fans across America what they had missed all season by brushing off the 10-2 Cardinals as a byproduct of a weak schedule in the Big East. Bridgewater didn’t play perfectly on Wednesday night, but came darn close, finishing with 20 completions for 266 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly he seemed to make the right decision nearly every time he stepped back in the pocket, whether it was taking what the defense gave him with short throws or simply avoiding the pass rush with his feet. Looking at this objectively, Bridgewater very well could be the breakout star of the entire 2012-2013 bowl season.
Beyond Bridgewater though, the underrated story of the evening was the Louisville defense. Now granted, we all know that Florida wasn’t elite offensively this year, but to their credit the Gators always seemed to score enough points needed to get the win. Only on Wednesday they had no answers from anyone, anywhere. Louisville was just that good.
On the night, the Gators finished with a meager 285 yards of total offense in a game where Driskel had arguably the worst performance of his entire season. The true sophomore completed just 16 of 29 passes for one touchdown and two interceptions, and was more than held in check on the ground, where he’s usually pretty effective. Speaking of that Florida ground game, it simply never got going against the Cardinals’ defense, not even steady senior Mike Gillislee who finished with just 48 yards. As a matter of fact, if you’re looking for one indicator of Louisville’s dominance, just know this: Of Florida’s three touchdowns, one came on a gimmicky play-call right before halftime and the other on a kickoff return. The Cardinals simply had a response for everything else.
And looking at this all in the big picture, it’s impossible not to see what this all means for the Cardinals’ in general. This is not only a signature win for a rising program, but could be the start of a real run at the BCS National Championship Game in 2014.
For starters, this program- which many have believed to be a sleeping college football giant for years- finally seems to have some stability, after years of anything but. Louisville emerged from the Big East quagmire with an ACC bid, and in a few years should step into the league as one of the conference favorites. More importantly, Charlie Strong isn’t going anywhere; he turned down the Tennessee job this off-season and with that previously mentioned stability around his program, it’s hard seeing him take another job anytime soon.
Then again why would Strong want to go anywhere with the team he is bringing back? The Cardinals will return close to 17 starters on defense, including essentially their entire defense, not to mention Bridgewater who is just a true sophomore himself. With a favorable schedule that could feature only one ranked opponent (a visit to Boise State) there’s no reason to think that this club can’t or won’t improve on its 10 regular season wins and 11 total wins in the 2012 year.
Yes, Wednesday was a great night for the Louisville football program.
Frankly it appears to be the first of many.
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