Despite being overwhelming favorites and the team with the BCS pedigree, the No. 3 Florida Gators (11-2) were blasted on Wednesday evening by the No. 21 Louisville Cardinals (11-2), which pulled off a 33-23 upset victory at the 2013 Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, LA.
Louisville scored on the first play from scrimmage of each half, overwhelmed Florida’s defense throughout the game and capitalized on each one of its opponent’s miscues to pull off the greatest victory in program history and biggest upset in BCS bowl game history. The Gators also snapped their streak of four-straight bowl wins and fell in a BCS game for the first time since 2000.
Florida put itself in an early hole on the very first play from scrimmage as sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel’s pass was tipped off the hands of redshirt junior wide receiver Andre Debose only to be intercepted by Louisville cornerback Terrell Floyd and returned for a touchdown just 15 seconds into the game. The defensive score was the Cardinals’ first of the season.
The Gators then went three-and-out on the ensuing possession and allowed UL QB Teddy Bridgewater to convert three third downs before running back Jeremy Wright carried the ball in for a one-yard touchdown. The 12-play, 83-yard drive ended with 6:47 left in the first quarter and gave UF its largest deficit of the season.
Energized and looking to get on the board, Florida drove all the way down to the Louisville seven before committing two discipline penalties and getting pushed back. When Driskel’s 3rd-and-13 pass fell incomplete out the back of the end zone, redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis came on and converted a 33-yard field goal attempt.
Bridgewater again led Louisville down the field on its next possession, converting another third down and travelling 66 yards on 11 plays. However, the Gators’ defense finally stopped the Cardinals on third down and a 27-yard field goal by K John Wallace put UL back on top by 14.
Florida’s offense stalled again, but Louisville’s continued to run like a well-oiled machine. Aided by a facemask penalty on Gators junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, the Cardinals engineered an eight-play, 54-yard drive. Bridgewater converted a 3rd-and-13 into a 15-yard touchdown pass to WR DeVante Parker to put his team ahead 24-3 with 2:57 left in the first half.
Faced with a potentially insurmountable deficit, Florida’s offense finally got into gear on its last possession of the first half. Driskel completed four passes for 45 yards and gained 24 more yards with his legs before freshman RB Matt Jones completed the 11-play, 75-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run off a split field goal formation.
The Gators’ creativity cost them as the second half got underway. An onside kick attempt was recovered by the Cardinals, which also benefitted from a pair of personal foul calls. Sophomores CB Loucheiz Purifoy and RB Chris Johnson each got tagged by the officials with Johnson also getting kicked out of the game for throwing a punch.
On the very next play, which began at UF’s 19 after both personal fouls were enforced, Bridgewater hit WR Damian Copeland for a touchdown. UL scored on the first play from scrimmage of both halves and took a 20-point lead after its extra point was blocked.
Two plays into Florida’s first possession of the second half, Driskel lost a fumble after being sacked by safety Calvin Pryor for a 17-yard loss. Louisville was not able to capitalize despite starting at UF’s six-yard line as Bridgewater was sacked once each by junior defensive tackles Damien Jacobs and Sharrif Floyd for a combined 20-yard loss. Wallace then shanked a 43-yard field goal attempt.
After stalling twice more on offense, the Gators caught a break as junior defensive end Dominique Easley deflected a Bridgewater pass and saw it land in the hands of senior safety Josh Evans at the Cardinals’ 37-yard line. Unfortunately for Florida, Driskel was picked off a few plays later when a ball was deflected and intercepted in the end zone by CB Andrew Johnson.
Louisville added a 30-yard field goal a few minutes later, but UF answered with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Debose to stay within 16 of UL. The kickoff return touchdown was the Gators’ first of the season and the longest in Sugar Bowl history.
Florida was able to get the ball back again after a Louisville punt landed at its three-yard line. Driskel put together his second impressive scoring drive of the game, moving the Gators 97 yards in 13 plays. Freshman tight end Kent Taylor caught his first career touchdown pass to end the drive, and a failed two-point conversion kept UF 10 points behind UL with 2:13 left to play.
Bridgewater finished 20-of-32 for 266 yards with two touchdowns and an interception and was complimented nicely by Wright, who crossed the goal line once and rattled off 84 yards on 25 carries.
Driskel was just 16-of-29 for 175 yards with a touchdown and two picks. Most of his yards came in his last drive of each half as he helped engineer a pair of scores for Florida. As UF played from behind most of the game, senior RB Mike Gillislee only got nine carries but still totaled 48 yards.
Redshirt sophomore WR Quinton Dunbar registered career-highs in receptions (five) and yards (77) in the game.
The Gators lost to the Cardinals for the first time in school history and is now 5-2 in BCS bowls. Florida fell to 4-2 against ranked teams this season and lost the turnover battle for just the second time during the 2012 campaign.