GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No. 3 Florida plays No. 21 Louisville on Wednesday in the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. It’s just the third meeting between the schools (the Gators have won the previous meetings in 1980 and 1992).
Here are five storylines for the game:
1. Contain Teddy Bridgewater: The Louisville quarterback doesn’t have big rushing numbers (43 yards, one touchdown), but he’s a mobile threat who is pretty good at avoiding pressure and scrambling out of trouble. Bridgewater has been successful in and out of the pocket. However, the Gators have had good success against mobile quarterbacks this season. They’ve limited South Carolina’s Connor Shaw, Florida State’s EJ Manuel, and they also shut down eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel in the second half. They key will be a disciplined pass rush to keep Bridgewater in the pocket. That’s still rolling the dice a bit, though, because he’s fifth nationally in completion percentage (69.0 percent) and passer efficiency rating (161.22).
2. Get Mike Gillislee going: The Gators’ senior running back is the first UF player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. The offense feeds off of his success, and he’s coming off perhaps his best performance of the season: 140 yards and two touchdowns against Florida State and the nation’s top-ranked rushing defense. Louisville’s rush defense is allowing 151.1 yards per game. The Cardinals held Rutgers to 54 yards rushing, but four of their previous five opponents rushed for at least 197 yards. Louisville gave up 255 yards to Temple and 278 yards to Syracuse in back-to-back games.
3. Win the turnover battle: Turnovers are one of the main reasons the Gators went from 7-6 last season to 11-1 in 2012. UF was minus-12 last season and is plus-14 this season. UF forced only 14 turnovers in 2011 but has forced 26 this season, including 19 interceptions. The only game in which the Gators had a negative turnover margin was the only game they lost. They were minus-3 against Georgia. Louisville has done a very good job of not turning the ball over (five fumbles, seven interceptions) and never turned the ball over more than twice in any game. Both quarterbacks have done a good job of protecting the ball, too. Bridgewater has thrown seven interceptions, while UF’s Jeff Driskel has thrown just three.
4. Keep emotions in check: There are numerous Gators players who were on the team in Louisville coach Charlie Strong’s last season as Florida's defensive coordinator (2009). He was one a very popular coach and someone the players could talk to about anything. Even the offensive players gravitated toward Strong. They don’t keep in regular contact with Strong, but there are still some fond feelings about their time with him. In addition to the seniors, there are several other players who also could be playing their final game with the Gators: S Matt Elam, DT Sharrif Floyd, DE Dominique Easley and TE Jordan Reed. How will they handle themselves? Sometimes players in that situation play tentatively or too conservatively, because they’re afraid of getting hurt.
5. Get something from a young player on offense: Offensive coordinator Brent Pease said WRs Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades, who have combined for just four catches, have improved during the bowl practices in Gainesville. The coaching staff is hoping they can do something similar to what CB Loucheiz Purifoy did last December. He was impressive during the bowl practices, played well in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl and became a starter and key part of this year’s defense. There is no other position on the team that needs someone to emerge more than receiver. If Pittman or Andrades can come up with a couple plays, that will be a boost for the offense against Louisville -- and also deliver some momentum for the offense heading into the offseason.