Cards shock Gators in half-empty Sugar Bowl

NEW ORLEANS — Florida fans clearly didn’t want to be here, and their team
responded in kind.

In the biggest surprise of the college football bowl season
and the largest upset in Sugar Bowl history, Louisville and their outstanding
quarterback Teddy Bridgewater stunned the Gators 33 -23 in a game that wasn’t
as close as the final score indicated. In so doing, the Cardinals became the
first 13-point underdog to win this bowl game.

They did it the old fashioned way: by hitting the Gators in
the mouth early and never letting up. On the first play from scrimmage Florida
quarterback Jeff Driskel threw an interception to Louisville sophomore
cornerback Terell Floyd who ran it in for a touchdown.

From there the Cardinals were off to the races, scoring on
their second possession and their third, and then tacking on three more scores
for good measure. If Florida hadn’t run a kickoff back for a touchdown with
7:41 remaining and scored again with 5:00 to go, this one would have been a
blowout.

As it was, Bridgewater threw for 266 yards against a Florida
defense which was ranked among the best in the country, and he converted 9-of-14
third downs, allowing the Cardinals to win the time of possession battle by 11-plus
minutes. 

It was arguably the biggest win in Louisville history,
although head coach Charlie Strong still defers to the 1991 Fiesta Bowl win
over Alabama.

“If you look at this game, we were able to match up
physically and overpower the No.3 team in the country,” Strong said. “We left a
lot of points out there, but still our whole team, just loved their
performance.”

There was a lot to love. The Cardinals defense sacked
Driskel three times for 33 yards and allowed the Gators to convert only three
third downs.

 “There was never any
doubt in our minds that we could win this game,” said Jeremy Wright, who led
Louisville in rushing with 84 yards. “We believed from the beginning, and that
belief carried us tonight.”  

Belief and one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the
nation will go a long away. 

“In order to change the culture of a program, our fans are
going to have to change it,” Strong said. “This evening they took that step,
just like we took a step and made a statement for next season.” 

By the opening kickoff of next season 200,000 Louisville fans
will swear they saw this one in person. And they will be lying.  

In fact, fans set a record for not being here. 

This was the smallest Sugar Bowl crowd since 1939 when
44,308 watched TCU beat Carnegie Tech 15-7. Back then, Tulane Stadium only held
49,000. The next year an upper deck was added, expanding capacity to 70,000 and
the Sugar Bowl sold out.

If 50,000 people saw this one in person (counting the bands)
I’ll eat a fried gator. 

Louisville traveled as well as could be expected for a 13-point
underdog. More than half the attendees were wearing Cardinal red.

It was the Florida contingent that was embarrassingly small.
According to the Orlando Sentinal, Florida sold fewer than 7,000 tickets from its
official allotment of 17,500.The Sugar Bowl committee didn’t make up the slack
as there were empty seats on the 40-yard line in the Florida section, and an
entire upper deck end zone never saw a soul.  

For some unfathomable reason, the Gator Nation has become
the Gator neighborhood. Just as Louisville is relying on their fan base to
change the culture, Florida’s could change the culture of that program as well,
and not in a good way. 

Not to take anything away from Louisville’s performance, but
Florida played this Sugar Bowl like it wanted to be home with its fans. 

“We got outplayed and outcoached,” coach Will Muschamp said.
“That’s the bottom line. If you go out and get beat, you get beat. That’s what
happened.”

In the process of getting beat, the Gators had a school-record
98 yards in penalties, including two personal foul penalties on the opening
kickoff of the second half that led to one ejection and another Bridgewater
touchdown. 

“I’ve said it before, Teddy is one of the best quarterbacks
in the country,” Strong said. “If you look out on that field tonight, you look
at what Florida has, you look at what we have, he was the best player on the
field.”  

No one would argue that point, just as everyone who saw the
game would agree that Louisville had the best team.

No, the problem doesn’t lie with the people who saw this one: it lies
with the people who didn’t. Because if a team’s fans don’t care enough
to come to the games, how can they expect the players to care about winning
them?