John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Don't let the final score fool you: Louisville thoroughly beat Florida in the 2013 Sugar Bowl.
For one team, the 2013 Sugar Bowl was a chance to earn validation as a program moving up the conference ladder and for a head coach who turned down what were considered to be better jobs to stay and keep building. For the other, it was a midwinter diversion. That about explains everything you need to know.
Louisville was sharp from the first snap, as Teddy Bridgewater and the offense sliced and diced Florida's defense while the UL defense made timely plays when needed. The Cardinals pulled off the largest upset in BCS history based on the point spread, as the 14-point underdogs thrashed the favored Gators 33-23. The 10-point margin doesn't tell the story, as two late touchdowns after it was mostly already over made the score look more kind to UF than reality was.
The word that comes to mind for Florida is immaturity. Ever since the loss to Georgia, the team has only shown up ready to play once: its win over Florida State. In the other four games, the Gators have played with little passion and energy, trying to rely on their talent to beat inferior teams. It barely worked against a hobbled James Franklin and Mizzou, it barely worked against UL-Lafayette, and it worked against a hopelessly overmatched Jacksonville State team. It did not work against a highly motivated Louisville team that for the most part played a brilliant game from wire to wire.
The Gators lived up to their standing as the most penalized team in the SEC. They had a number of just plain stupid flags, often at really bad times. A perfect example was on the opening kickoff of the second half, when UF tried a surprise onside kick. Louisville recovered, and there was a shoving match after the play. Two Gators got personal fouls, including special teams player Chris Johnson who threw a punch and got ejected. The calculated risk turned into a disaster, as Louisville began its new drive at the Florida 19. Bridgewater threw a picture perfect touchdown pass on the first play to extend the lead to 30-10 and largely put away lingering questions about whether there'd be a real Florida comeback.
There was a lot more to this game than just dumb play by Florida. Jeff Driskel regressed terribly, turning it over three times and nearly giving it away on a couple other occasions. He only ever looked effective when the Cardinals went into prevent defense at the ends of the halves. The team wasn't able to deal with Charlie Strong's creative blitzes, and the lack of reliable pass targets has seldom looked more evident. The defense's problems were mostly due to coming out and playing poorly, as evidenced by its far better second half, but it seldom did anything to disrupt Bridgewater or his receivers.
As I covered after the loss to Georgia, Florida was fortunate to win as many games as it did. This Florida team is not what generally comes to mind when you think of an 11-1 team. The Gators had a magnificent bounce back season given where they were over the previous two years, but Will Muschamp's rebuilding job is certainly not yet complete.