For Cardinal Dominance’s final piece on the All State Sugar Bowl matchup with the Florida Gators, we will be dissecting the numbers and key matchups for the Louisville Cardinals offense versus the #5 ranked total defense of the Florida Gators. Teddy Bridgewater and his supporting casts of talented playmakers will definitely have a huge task ahead of them and will need to be flawless to gain advantages in any category and or matchup. The Gators are loaded with four and five star players throughout their defense and not only do they have “talent”, they also have ample amounts of “experience”. I’ve introduced you to the playmakers in each of the positional groups in the last two weeks so now let’s see how they might perform against the Cardinal offense.
6-foot-3, 303 pound Junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd will likely be the main focus and probably draw a few double teams by the likes of Guards, John Miller and Jake Smith along with Center, Mario Benavides to try and open up some running lanes. Tackles, Alex Kupper and Jamon Brown will have their hands full as well trying to protect Bridgewater from two of the best true freshmen Defensive Ends in Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard. Fowler and Bullard are both 6-feet-3 inches and weigh over 270 pounds with excellent speed and a great burst off the line. Bullard leads the team with 7 quarterback hurries while Fowler has recorded 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. You can check out the Defensive Line breakdown HERE in case you missed it. The Gators defensive line has recorded 11.5 of the teams 25 sacks on the season and helped pave the way to only allowing 97 yards rushing per game (6th in the FBS). On the season, despite multiple injuries and several different line combinations, the Cards’ offensive line gave up 26 sacks (tied 77th in FBS) and allowed the team to run for 1525 yards (127.08 ypg) and 22 touchdowns averaging 3.58 yards per carry. The 127.08 yards per game puts the Cards at 98th in the FBS. The Louisville running game took a major blow when Senorise Perry was lost for the season against Syracuse early in the first quarter. Jeremy Wright has proven to be a tough runner with good power and the emergence of Corvin Lamb gives the Cardinals a speedster that can take it to the house on any play. ADVANTAGE: FLORIDA
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Bridgewater put up some great numbers this year due to having a plethora of options to go to if the running game was struggling. Teddy was able to complete 267 out of 387 passes for 3,452 yards, 25 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. The Cardinals had 15 players catch at least one pass on the year, led by Damian Copeland’s 48 receptions and Eli Rogers’ 42. Six different guys had over 200 receiving yards led by DeVante Parker’s 712 yards and Copeland’s 597. Bridgewater found 10 guys in the end zone but none caught more than Parker’s 9 touchdowns. Rogers was second with 4. Senior Andrell Smith stayed healthy and put together the kind of season many fans knew he could since arriving in Louisville. Smith was very solid grabbing 30 receptions for 481 yards (16 yards per catch) and 3 touchdowns. Wright and Perry were both having great seasons running the ball and the Cards ran for at least 108 yards in each of the first 9 games of the season. The last 3 combined, the Cards could only muster 117 yards and were unable to punch it in the end zone. Perry was a vital part of the successful running game no doubt and Lamb will be need to step up and play huge alongside Wright to help put the Cardinals in position to pull off the monumental upset of the Gators. Wright finished the regular season with 740 yards rushing while Perry added 705 and Lamb contributed 45 and had a couple of big runs versus Rutgers. Bridgewater ran for 223 yards but was sacked for a loss of 180 yards netting him 43. In the shortened season, Perry led the team with 11 rushing touchdowns while Wright added 9, Lamb 1 and Bridgewater one. As a team, Louisville finished 24th in the FBS in passing offense, 47th in scoring offense (31 points per game), 13th in 3rd down conversion percentage (48.54%) and 1st in red zone scoring percentage at 96%.
With guys like Matt Elam, Josh Evans, Jaylen Watkins, Jonathan Bostic, Antonio Morrison and Lerentee McCray, UF has more than enough weapons to counter the Cardinals balanced and productive offensive attack. UF didn’t have any one guy outside of Bostic, Elam and Evans with more than 60 tackles but a big part of that reason is that the Gators ran the ball so much on offense and dominated the time of possession (5th in FBS). Simply put, the Florida defense didn’t play as much as other team defenses did throughout the season. Even without the huge numbers or stats, the Gators have several guys that will likely be playing on Sunday’s in the future. Louisville finished 8th in FBS in time of possession so the Gator defense will likely get a few more opportunities than usual to prove their worth.
Florida’s pass defense is ranked 15th in the FBS, 6th in rush defense, 3rd in scoring defense (12.92 ppg), 5th in turnover margin (29 takeaways vs. 12 giveaways) and 1st in passing efficiency defense. It’s hard to find any area that the Cards might have an advantage in when comparing the two teams but if there is one, it might be that the Louisville offense has so many weapons they can use and it’s possible that the UF defense can be worn down due to the fact they don’t have a lot of experience outside of their starters.
Make no mistake, the Gators defense has proven all year that they are very good and they have done it against some of the best teams in the SEC but they have also played a few teams closer than what was expected. They beat Missouri which was average at best 14-7 and the Tigers used multiple offensive sets and several substitutions to spread the UF defense out and ran them all over the field, in the process wearing them down. The next week, Louisiana followed the Tigers same recipe and played the Gators tough eventually falling 27-20. Expect Offensive Coordinator, Shawn Watson to try and employ the same type of game plan and try to win one on one battle’s with his receivers versus the Gator defensive backs and I would expect to see designed plays to try and isolate a UF linebacker against Wright and or Lamb in the open field. With guys like Bostic, Elam and Evans proving all year long that they can play effectively against the run and pass, the Cardinal backs and receivers will have to maintain their composure and focus for the full 60 minutes of game time. If they let up or don’t go full effort in any one play, the Gators can and likely will capitalize and make gator bait of the Cardinals. ADVANTAGE: FLORIDA
Be sure to tune in to ESPN at 8:30pm. (EST) on January 2nd, 2013 to catch all of the excitement and see if the heavy underdogs can keep it close and possibly knock off the SEC juggernaut.
*** I’d like to personally thank ALL of you fans and friends for the support of Cardinal Dominance and myself and it has been a real pleasure writing and contributing my little “two cents” throughout the season. Hopefully I’ll be able to pick up some more basketball games and bring you the coverage you guys and gals deserve!