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.
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.