As double-digit favorites, Florida entered the Sugar Bowl as the Goliath SEC program looking to put an exclamation point on a one-loss season. However Ex-Gator assistant coach Charlie Strong and sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had other ideas, leading Louisville to the upset victory in New Orleans, 33-23.
Not sure anyone saw this coming. After all, it was the mighty SEC vs. the feeble Big East. But Bridgewater, a Miami, Florida native, carved up the Gators' defense, which entered the game No. 1 in the nation in pass defense efficiency. Bridgewater was the Game's most outstanding player and in calm, composed fashion, he finished the night 20-for-32 for 266 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His lone mistake came on an interception that was tipped at the line of scrimmage. But other than that, Bridgewater was surgical, showing why many are already mentioning his name as the early favorite to be the first quarterback drafted in the 2014 NFL Draft. As a true sophomore, he isn't eligible for this year's Draft.
“We we're the underdogs coming into the game and it just meant a lot, not only for this team, but for the city of Louisville,” Bridgewater said after the game. “For us to get this win and put Louisville back on the map, it means a lot.”
And as good as Bridgewater was, the defense and special teams units also out-played the Gators. On the first play from scrimmage, Louisville defensive back Terell Floyd intercepted a tipped pass and returned it for the pick-six. And the Cardinals held that lead for the rest of the game.
Strong spent 27 years as an assistant head coach, including eight (2002-09) with the Gators until Louisville gave him his first head coaching job in 2010.
“It's a special program to me (Florida) and I will always have my memories there,” Strong said about beating his former team. “But we always talk about building a program here at the University of Louisville and it's a special place.”
The night was reminiscent of the 2009 Sugar Bowl when a flat Alabama team took their opponent lightly and Utah upset the Crimson Tide in the Superdome. Florida looked fully invested in this year's match-up, but Louisville simply defeated the Gators in every facet of the game, including coaching. The final score shows a 10-point margin, but it wasn't even that close. Louisville finished 9-for-13 on third downs and didn't even punt until late in the fourth quarter.
While Louisville stole the show, the Sugar Bowl was likely the final collegiate game for many underclassmen, especially on the Florida roster. Safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd announced they would skip their senior seasons and enter the 2013 NFL Draft. Junior tight end Jordan Reed and several others are expected to announce their NFL intentions soon.
With the 2013 NFL Draft still over four months away, there is already a discussion brewing on the No. 1 overall pick for the 2014 NFL Draft between Bridgewater and South Carolina pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney. It should be fun.