NEW ORLEANS — Teddy Bridgewater once thought of playing football at the University of Florida. Given how thoroughly Louisville’s quarterback shredded Florida in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday, the Gators probably wished he had.
With Muhammad Ali looking on at the Superdome, the sophomore from Miami helped the Cardinals deliver an upset that was every bit as shocking as the boxer’s knockout of Sonny Liston four decades earlier, embarrassing No. 4 Florida, 33-23.
The “Louisville Lip,” who wore Bridgewater’s No. 5 jersey onto the field for the pregame coin flip, must have been pleased.
Given that the Cardinals were listed as two-touchdown underdogs to the Gators, Bridgewater complained beforehand that “People consider the Big East the Big Least.”
Not anymore they don’t.
While upsets are the norm in a city famous for its horse racing and the Kentucky Derby, the Cardinals made the Gators look like plodders in the shocker of the bowl season. And Bridgewater, a product of Miami’s Northwestern High who considered Florida and committed to the University of Miami before heading off to Louisville after Miami coach Larry Shannon was fired, was the one delivering one big punch after another.
“Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!,” Cardinals fans chanted after the victory.
Said Bridgewater after finishing 20 of 32 for 266 yards and two touchdowns: “We were the underdogs coming into this game. It means a lot for this team and the city of Louisville.”
The Cardinals (11-2) raced out to a 24-3 lead before holding on for their first victory in a BCS bowl. Florida (11-2), which had not given up more than 26 points in any game all season, couldn’t stop Bridgewater.
Louisville pounced early and pulled away late.
The Cardinals scored on the game’s very first play from scrimmage when Jeff Driskel’s wide pass to Andre Dubose deflected off the receiver’s hands and into the waiting arms of Louisville cornerback Terell Floyd, who ran it back 38 yards for the touchdown — the first of the season for the Cardinals’ defense.
As if to show that the opening pick six was no fluke, the Cardinals struck again the first time they had the ball, with Bridgewater proving once again that he is as tough as he is talented. An injured Bridgewater — “playing on one leg and with one arm” in the words of Louisville head coach Charlie Strong — came off the bench to lead the Cardinals in their Big East championship victory over Rutgers. On Wednesday, Bridgewater was belted by Gators linebacker Jonathan Bostic with a hit so vicious it flattened the quarterback and jarred the helmet off his head.
“What a competitor,” Strong said. “We saw it in the Rutgers game and we saw it here again tonight on the grand stage. He is, without a doubt, one of the best quarterbacks in the country.”
Bridgewater not only picked himself up and strapped on his helmet after the hit, but immediately directed a 12-play scoring drive that covered 83 yards and culminated in Jeremy Wright’s short run into the end zone. Just like that, the 14-point underdogs were ahead by 14.
Following a Florida field goal, the Cardinals added one of their own before Bridgewater found DeVante Parker in the end zone for a 15-yard scoring pass that made it 24-3.
Looking desperate, the Gators marched down the field with time running out in the first half and scored on a fourth-and-1 play with 10 seconds remaining.
Of Louisville’s 185 first-half yards, 180 came off Bridgewater’s arm.
When the teams returned for the second half, the Gators tried to surprise the Cardinals with an onside kick. Louisville not only recovered, but the Gators were called for two unsportsmanlike penalties on the play, moving the ball to the Florida 19.
Bridgewater promptly hit Damian Copeland on a touchdown pass, and just like that, it was 30-10.
Louisville could have padded the lead after recovering a Driskel fumble at the UF 4. But a pair of sacks drove the Cardinals in reverse and they missed a 43-yard field goal try.
But the miss proved irrelevant.
The Gators, who did not convert on third down until the start of the fourth quarter, saw what little chance that remained of a comeback crumble when Driskel was intercepted in the end zone by Andrew Johnson on a deflected pass.
Following a Louisville field goal, Dubose returned the kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. And the Gators added another late touchdown.
But it was too little, too late for Florida.
“We were outcoached and outplayed,” said Gators head coach Will Muschamp. “This is a sour day,”