Louisville Cardinals 33 – Florida Gators 23: Gators Out-Coached, Out-Classed In Sugar Bowl

It ended 33-23, but that score doesn’t indicate what really happened on Wednesday night in the Sugar Bowl. Closing the door on the 2012 season, the Florida Gators were out-coached and out-classed by the Louisville Cardinals. A few years ago, Gator Nation laid claim to the Ohio State Buckeyes after both football and basketball national championships. Now, it’s the Cardinals that own the Gators. First, the elite eight victory and now the Sugar Bowl.

Charlie Strong - Louisville Cardinals

There aren’t many worse ways a game can start than they way the Sugar Bowl did for the Florida Gators. For a moment, you might think “okay good, receiving the kick, let’s just get the offense out there and get the jitters out of the way, we don’t need a score on the first drive, but at least get them on the field.” Then a few seconds later, you find yourself banging your head against the wall wondering how what just happened really did happened. If you blinked you would have missed it and suddenly it was 7-0 Louisville.

It did get worse though. The offense sputtered, but we almost expected that much. This Gators’ team didn’t get where it was this season due to an explosive offense. It got to the Sugar Bowl thanks to an elite defense and an offense that came on when it needed to. It was still very much a work in progress. Unfortunately, the defense looked like it was only at that point too on Wednesday night. To say the Gators got out-coached would be a massive understatement. It looked like the Cardinals coaching staff had spent 24 hours a day every day studying the Florida defense and finding every possible way to exploit it. And exploit it they did.

Leading up to the game, several Gators commented that Teddy Bridgewater was the best quarterback they would face all season. That looked to be true. Not only did Bridgewater look like a legitimate future Heisman candidate, the plays called for him were nearly flawless. He picked apart the Gators’ defense even when facing pressure from the defensive line. Bridgewater was a model quarterback in the victory. His stats won’t jump off off the page at you–20-of-32, 266 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception–but there was an efficiency to his play that almost had you believing early that there was no way the Cardinals would lose. 9-of-14 on third down didn’t hurt their chances either.

In the end, this wasn’t a 33-23 game. It looked more like a 33-10 game–the score was exactly that after Louisville kicked a field goal with 7:54 remaining. Florida did what it does and scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to edge closer, but it never appeared to be that close at all. One team didn’t convert on third downs; one team did. One team was plagued by stupid penalties and even an ejection; the other team wasn’t. One team looked lost and confused early; the other team appeared to be as prepared as you could possibly be. One team is 11-2 even though, at the moment, it doesn’t feel as such; the other team is 11-2 and feels as if they are on top of the world.

There will be more highs and lows for the Gators under Will Muschamp. 11-2 is something to celebrate, but the sting of this final, flat, disappointing loss makes any record good or bad tough to swallow. On the other sideline, we saw an elated and deserving victorious Charlie Strong and for a second we smiled (or smirked, or grinned, or even laughed). Two up-and-coming head coaches faced off and one flat out defeated the other.

Florida Gators Vs. Louisville Cardinals: Five Final Sugary Thoughts

In less than five hours, the Florida Gators will hit the field one final time to close out the 2012 season. Their opponent–the Louisville Cardinals–is an unfamiliar one, and the place–the Sugar Bowl–hasn’t been as known to the Gators as one would have hoped in recent years. The two teams face off with that pride thing on the line, but also much more. For the Gators, it’s a chance at an unlikely 12-1 season and a BCS bowl game victory one season before many thought it was possible.

Jeff Driskel - Florida Gators

As we head into tonight’s game and the Time That Forgot College Football beyond it, here are five final thoughts on the Sugar Bowl.

1. Charlie Strong being a former Florida Gators’ assistant coach does not give Louisville an advantage. Okay, so having Strong as a head coach period might–the man is very good at what he does–but he didn’t leave Gainesville a year ago. He left long before the current staff and system was in place. This is his third season with the Cardinals. Do the math. Will Muschamp is in his second with the Gators and it feels like offensive coordinator Brent Pease only just got here. Strong gives his team many advantages, but familiarity with what the Gators do today isn’t one of them. Sure, he’s familiar with some of the older players and even had a large part in bringing some of them to the University of Florida, but that is vastly different than someone that may have left just one season ago.

2. Yes, Teddy Bridgewater is that good. In only his sophomore season, Bridgewater is already one of the better quarterbacks in the country. He ranked seventh in the nation is passer rating–161.6–and sixth in completion percentage–60.0%. The sophomore is constantly improving. Even in Louisville’s two losses, Bridgewater’s touchdown-to-interception ratio was 5-to-2. The Gators’ secondary will be on alert. This kid can throw the ball.

3. The Gators’ sophomore quarterback–Jeff Driskel–hasn’t climbed as high as Bridgewater as quickly, but he has rather efficiently led Florida to an 11-1 record. Driskel may not wow you for 59 minutes, but then suddenly he does. He wasn’t asked to throw nearly as much as Bridgewater–216 to 387–but he showed signs of improvement over time. The passing yards aren’t there, but neither are the interceptions; Driskel only threw three all season. As the offense evolves, so does Driskel. He may never be a 3,000-yard passer, but in 11 starts in 2012 (come on, let’s just go ahead and give him the start for the Bowling Green game), he went 10-1. I’ll take it.

4. On that note, many of you will say “well, it was the defense, not the offense.” For the most part I won’t argue with you and because of that I’ll give a shout of to that side of the ball right here. Jon Bostic, gone. Sharrif Floyd, probably gone. Omar Hunter, gone. Matt Elam, probably gone. Those are just a few names. Just a few of the standouts on this year’s defense. Some of the stars will return, but others won’t. For some, this is it. This is their final game in a Gators’ uniform. Play for whatever you want to play for tonight, but make it count. Do it one final time and prove to the nation again just how good you can be.

5. And finally, enjoy it all. This isn’t just to the players, but also to us–the fans. This isn’t the Outback Bowl or Capital One Bowl or Gator Bowl. This is the Sugar Bowl. It’s one of the big ones. It’s one of the ones many Florida fans feel the Gators belong in. We want this every year, so don’t look over it when it comes as a surprise. This is what we want to see from our Gators. We want 10+ wins, we want to beat Florida State, we want to be in the top five and we want bowl games. When a national championship isn’t in the picture, this is what we want. Enjoy tonight, because tomorrow starts the long, cold, dead period.

Morning Reading: Quarterbacks of the Future

The last few quarterback recruiting classes have been less than desirable.  They’ve had their big names, but from top to bottom are hard to call stellar.  It could be due to a shift in the way offenses are run or it could be that younger players are hoping to find the best path to the NFL even earlier.  Good athletes who may not have all the tools the NFL is looking for in a QB may be looking at other positions.  Why stick with being a marginal quarterback prospect when you could possibly be a top wide receiver?
Although overall depth may not be there, there are some impact players this year who any school in need of a quarterback will pursue.
The top quarterback in the 2011 recruiting class on most lists is Hagerty’s (Oviedo, FL) Jeff Driskel.  The 6’4”, 225-pound Driskel has pushed himself to the top of the QB rankings thanks to ideal size and good speed.  He has all of the abilities needed in a quarterback and may be ready to contribute early.  Driskel has already made his choice (fingers crossed he sticks with it!) and will be heading to Florida.
Right behind Driskel are Wayne’s (Huber Heights, OH) Braxton Miller and Butler’s (Matthews, NC) Christian LeMay.  Miller – who has committed to Ohio State – is a great passer who has no trouble throwing on the run.  Although not as big as Terrelle Pryor, Miller figures to flourish in the Buckeyes’ offense.  LeMay – a Georgia commit – has one of the quickest releases you’ll see from a high school quarterback and by all accounts is a great kid.  As the recruiting season continues, both should give Driskel a run for his money as the top ranked QB.
A few others to watch during their senior seasons include Shiloh Christian’s (Springdale, AR) Kiehl Frazier, Northwestern’s (Miami, FL) Teddy Bridgewater, and Chaminade-Madonna Prep’s (Hollywood, FL) Jerrard Randall.