The Louisville Cardinals pounced early and often to pull off one of the biggest upsets in the 15-year history of the Bowl Championship Series.
The Cardinals defeated the heavily favored Florida Gators 33-23 on Wednesday night in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
Louisville scored a touchdown off a Florida interception in the first seconds of the game and never looked back, taking a two touchdown lead into halftime. The Cardinals had a 23-point lead about halfway through the fourth quarter, but the Gators managed a touchdown on a kickoff return.
Florida scored a touchdown with just over two minutes remaining to close the score to 10, but the Gators failed to a two-point conversion attempt.
Sportswriters and analysts argued that the Gators were physically superior and had honed their skills in the Southeastern Conference, a tougher league than Louisville’s Big East. If not the toughest. The oddsmakers had favored Florida by 14 points; many sportswriters argued that Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater would need to have a breakout game for the Cardinals to be competitive.
Bridgewater did have a strong game, passing for 266 yards compared to 175 yards from his Florida counterpart Jeff Driskel.
Days before the game, Louisville Coach Charlie Strong said his team was OK with being an underdog.
“It gives our players a little motivation, they know they’re going to have to go play,” Strong said. “And they have the respect for that program, because with the number of players we have on this team from the state of Florida, they know what that program’s all about and who we’re facing.”
Louisville’s defense hounded Florida, which had three turnovers to Louisville’s one. Moreover, Florida gave up 98 yards on penalties.
The Cardinals finish the season 11-2; they were ranked 22 in the Associated Press poll going into the game (No. 21 in the BCS ranking) and are sure to rise. The Gators finish 11-2, too. The AP ranked them No. 4 in the nation and the BCS ranked them No. 3.
The Sugar Bowl victory is the Cardinals’ third in a major bowl game — the first being the Fiesta Bowl (over Alabama) at the end of the 1990 season and the second the Orange Bowl (over Wake Forest) at the end of the 2006 season. It caps a season already made historic for UofL’s impending move to the Atlantic Coast Conference and the decision by Strong to turn down a job offer from a Tennessee program that’s considered more prominent.
Perhaps until now.
“We feel like we can take this program to another level,” Strong told ESPN Wednesday night after the Sugar Bowl Victory, while praising Bridgewater.