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COMMENTARY: Were Gators Prepared For Sugar Bowl?

In the aftermath of Florida’s 33-23 loss Wednesday in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans to former Gator defensive coordinator Charlie Strong and his Louisville Cardinals, many Gator fans are wondering this…

What happened?

If you listened to ESPN College Game Day’s crew and specifically Kirk Herbstreit, he believes that Florida was not well prepared to play this game, thinking that the Gators took Louisville too lightly.

You be the judge.

Gator coach Will Muschamp looked bewildered and befuddled when addressing the media after the game and said his team was outcoached and outplayed.   If you know anything about Muschamp, he will not call out specific players for things they did wrong; he takes the blame when things don’t go well and he is to be respected for that.

But the question is still there…were the players looking past Louisville, a double digit underdog, or is Louisville better than advertised?

The answer for me is complicated.   I think Florida was ready to play this game, but certainly the first play from scrimmage when quarterback Jeff Driskel threw the pick six gave the Cardinals a huge jolt of confidence and conversely Florida seemed to never quite fully recover from that poor play.

We all know Florida has started slowly in games on offense all year long, so that shouldn’t have been a surprise, but that pick six seemed to really shake Florida’s confidence, to throw them off their projected course.    And it took too long to get back on track.

And on defense, the Gators seemed more intent on sending messages to Louisville’s players than to play fundamental football.   The hit that quarterback Teddy Bridgewater took early knocked his helmet off but it also resulted in a Gator personal foul call.   Running back Jeremy Wright took a vicious hit too.   But to the Cardinals credit, they were not intimidated and Bridgewater and company made plays and made a proud Gator defense look very ordinary as Florida missed tackles and left receivers open all night.

And of course, there is the onside kick disaster to start the second half.   Florida got two 15 yard penalties and a player ejected and that lack of discipline came back to bite the Gators big time when the Cardinals went right in and scored.   Lack of discipline, in my view, has been a problem all year long for this team, and we all know the problem Florida has had all year long with penalties and on this night, there were nine more of them for 98 yards.

Florida lost to a team that lost to Connecticut and Syracuse.   But credit Louisville for being well prepared, led by a quarterback who as a junior next year will be a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender to start the season.

The shame of this is that this loss ruins what was a very surprisingly successful season for Gator football.   But now, as next year looms, Florida must find ways to vastly improve its offensive production and replace a bunch of defensive players who either graduate or who are leaving early in the case of Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam.

Was Florida prepared for this game?   Yes, but it was NOT prepared for Louisville to jump on them the way it did.   The script Florida had written for this game got revised by Louisville players and their coaches, led of course, by former Gator assistant Charlie Strong.

11-2 is certainly a nice year, but at least today, it doesn’t seem as good as it should.

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