Sugar Bowl Preview
January 2, 2013
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LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (10-2) vs. FLORIDA GATORS (11-1)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Florida -14 & 46
Opening Line & Total: Gators -14 & 45.5
Florida looks to end the season with a dozen wins when it takes on heavy underdog Louisville in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday night.
Louisville is 4-7 in bowls since 1998 and is only 3-6 ATS in the past nine contests this year, dropping two of the past three games outright. Florida is 6-1 in its past seven bowls, including two BCS Championships, but is just 1-4 ATS in its past five games in 2012. The Cardinals are led by QB Teddy Bridgewater, who ranks eighth in the nation in passing efficiency (8.9 YPA, 25 TD, 7 INT). However, the Gators allow a mere 12.9 PPG (3rd in FBS) and 283 total YPG (5th in nation). They also know how to run the football, gashing a strong Florida State defense for 244 yards on 47 carries (5.2 YPC) in the regular season finale. Florida has more talent on both sides of the ball, but Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater (291 total YPG, 25 TD, 7 INT) will keep his team in the game.
Florida thrives on creating turnovers (29 this year, 5 last game), but Louisville has just 12 giveaways for the entire season. And the Gators offense has not been good enough recently to expect a blowout of two-touchdown proportions against a quality Cardinals defense that most recently held Rutgers to 54 rushing yards. The Gators had only 11.5 PPG and 271 total YPG in their final two conference tilts against Georgia and Missouri. Louisville also has the more experienced coach on the sidelines with former Gators coach Charlie Strong, who is 8-0 ATS off two or more consecutive Unders as the head man with the Cardinals.
Bridgewater hopes to be much sharper than he was in his last postseason game in the 2011 Meineke Car Care Bowl when he completed just 24-of-43 passes (55.8%) for 274 yards, 2 TD and 3 INT in 31-24 loss to NC State. He did come up big in the regular-season finale though, playing through a broken wrist and sore ankle and completing 20-of-28 passes (71.4%) for 263 yards, 2 TD and 1 INT in a 20-17 win at Rutgers to clinch the BCS bid as a Big East co-champion. It was his sixth straight game with at least 2 TD passes, throwing for a total of 16 TD and 4 INT during this stretch. Sophomore WR DeVante Parker has caught a touchdown pass in five straight games, as all nine of his scores on the year have occurred in the past eight games. He is certainly a big-play receiver with 18.7 yards per reception. With Senorise Perry (705 rush yds, 11 TD) suffering a season-ending knee injury, the Cardinals have relied on Jeremy Wright (740 rush yds, 9 TD) to carry the load. But Wright has been awful in the past three games, gaining 89 yards on 48 carries (1.9 YPC).
One thing Louisville does very well is protecting the football, as the Cardinals have committed just 12 turnovers in 12 games, sporting a +9 TO margin. The Louisville defense is better than most, allowing just 345 total YPG (25th in FBS) and 23.8 PPG (36th in nation). However, the return game is brutal, as the Cardinals rank 5th-worst in the nation in kick returns (17.8 average) and 15th-worst in punt returns (4.2 average).
Gators QB Jeff Driskel has been slowed by an ankle injury, but he is expected to start on Wednesday. Driskel hasn't reached 200 passing yards in a game since September, but he has thrown a mere three interceptions in 216 pass attempts this season. Another player slowed by injury for this game is senior RB Mike Gillislee (1,104 rush yds, 10 TD), who hurt his ribs during his 140-yard, 2-TD outburst at Florida State on Nov. 24. He will start on Wednesday in hopes that he can repeat his 2010 Sugar Bowl success (five carries, 78 yards) in his final collegiate game. TE Jordan Reed leads Florida in both receptions (44) and receiving yards (552), but he hasn't topped 85 yards this season and has scored touchdowns in just two different games.
The Gators defense has been impressive in all facets, ranking 6th in FBS in defending the run (97 YPG) and 13th in pass defense (186 YPG). No FBS school is more efficient in defending the pass than Florida, which has 19 interceptions while allowing just five passing touchdowns on the season. These picks have helped the defense pile up 29 takeaways and produce a +17 turnover margin for the season.