Louisville is the underdog. Florida is maybe one bad fumble away from playing in the National Championship, and Louisville is a heroic performance away from a December bowl game. There's nothing wrong with being the underdog. Ask West Virginia. The greatest thing about football is that on any given day, either team can win. There are so many variables, and bowl games show that every year. Lets take a look at some of the things Louisville needs to do to pull of the upset.
Teddy is the key to this team. We all know it and I promise you Will Muschamp and his defensive staff know too. Teddy has a knack for escaping the rush, but he is deadly when he has the time to sit in the pocket and distribute the ball. Muschamp has said that he will continue to mix coverages as he has all year. I personally think that he will bring more pressure than he normally has. Louisville's offense isn't the best that Florida has faced all season, but Teddy and his receivers are arguably the best combination that Florida has seen. If Teddy is blitzed and the line gives him time to find DeVante Parker, Damien Copeland, or Andrell Smith downfield, this is a completely different game than most are expecting. Florida's rotation of defensive lineman only accounted for 11 of the teams 25 sacks. Neither one of those stats are overly impressive. Louisville must force Florida to blitz them. And when they do they must give Teddy the time to operate.
Create Short Yardage Situations
This is two-fold. Creating short yardage situations helps the passing game by forcing Florida to crowd the line therefore giving Teddy and his receivers more one-on-one situations. But the biggest reason Louisville must get into second and medium and third and short situations is to control the ball. Florida wears teams down. If you were to look at the boxscore of their last game against a very good Florida State team you might think it wasn't a close game. Florida scored 24 points in the fourth quarter against a dead tired FSU defense. Louisville has to be able to at least even out the time of possession. Both teams average about 33 minutes of possession a game. Florida does it with its ground game while Louisville likes to use its short passing game mixed in with the run game. If Louisville can establish even a resemblance of it's early season run game, they will be able to move the ball down the field and not only score points, but wear down the defense throughout the course of the game. Florida plays a lot of guys on defense, so there isn't a major drop off. However, reserve players are reserve players for a reason. Louisville will take any edge it can get.
Make Big Plays
"Big time players make big time plays in big games". One of my favorite sports quotes is also one of the truest statements. Louisville has had its share of big plays on the offensive side of the ball this year. Teddy has only had two games where he didn't complete at least one pass for 30 yards or more. And he was just short in those two. DeVante Parker had one of the most exciting plays in recent memory against Cincinnati. Damien Copeland has made more diving catches than Willie Mays. Even Ryan Hubbell has gotten in on the act. But where have the big plays been on defense? We've seen a few game saving plays from Andrew Johnson and Terrell Floyd but where is the consistency? Florida doesn't turn the ball over. They have 12 turnovers on the entire season. But, and it's a big "but", Jeff Driskel is responsible for most of those. He has thrown three interceptions and he has 8 total fumbles. Pair those with the 36 sacks he's taken and there is no reason Louisville can't get to Driskel and force a turnover. He might not make a lot of bad throws, but he provides the opportunity to make a play with his running and his knack for holding onto the ball too long.
Negate Big Plays And Turnovers
If your goal is to turn the other team over and make big plays, you have to make sure you're not doing those things also. Louisville almost lost to Rutgers because of two plays. TWO. Seeing receivers run freely down the field is not foreign to Vance Bedford and the Cardinals fanbase. The back of T.Y. Hilton's jersey is still etched in our minds. Watching Gary Nova hit two receivers on short routes and have them turn them into long touchdowns doesn't bode well for the defense coming into the Sugar Bowl. Driskel and his receivers don't have a big play attack. Florida's receivers average 10 yards per catch. That's pretty low considering they don't throw the ball all that much. Typically teams that run the ball well get favorable matchups and they can get the ball down the field more. That's not the case with the Gators and Louisville needs to keep it that way. Calvin Pryor and the cornerbacks need to make sure they wrap up and take good angles to the ball or Florida's pass game will look much better than 118th in the nation.
The Cardinals must also not turn the ball over and make things easier for Florida's offense. They can't shoot themselves in the foot as they say. Louisville has 12 turnovers on the season. Florida has forced 29. Something's gotta give and Louisville can't be the giver. Teddy does a great job of protecting the ball but Florida has talent that he hasn't seen this year and a scheme that is almost as multiple as Brent Pease's crazy offense. The Gators will mix coverages and blitz from all angles. The Cardinals have faced pressure defenses all season but none of those defenses had the speed that Florida has. Florida has the ability to cause turnovers because of the pressure they bring or by sitting back in a zone and confusing a quarterback. Teddy must be sound in his reads and must be accurate when he lets go of the ball. Most importantly in my opinion is the fact that the receivers need to make sure to secure the ball after the catch. Matt Elam and Loucheiz Purifoy are constantly trying to rip or jar the ball loose. Louisville can't give the game to Florida. It has to at least make Florida fight for it.
Make Jeff Driskel Beat You With His Arm
Driskel has thrown for 200 yards twice this season. Once against an awful UK defense and once against a fairly awful Tennessee defense. Florida is 11-1 so before people really talk down about Driskel's game, it should be noted that there hasn't been a need for Florida to throw the ball all over the field. One thing is for certain though. Jeff Driskel can and will win games for you. He might now be as exciting as some of the other quarterbacks and he might not put up great numbers. He will, however, not lose games for your team and that's exactly what Louisville needs him to do in the Sugar Bowl.
Driskel was the consensus top high school quarterback in the country two years ago. Recruiting services rarely whiff on a guy as a whole. What needs to be realized by everyone is that Driskel does almost everything well. He is accurate. He can throw the ball down the field. He can outrun everyone on your defense. And provides a lethal threat in the spread option. The only thing he really struggles with is when to throw the ball away and when to take a sack. He also hasn't proven that he can win a game with his arm. That's just a fact. It's not just an important fact because he could fail at that. It's important because it gets Florida out of its gameplan. Florida likes to run the ball and wear defenses down. Putting the ball in Driskel's hands instead of all of the other speed they have on the field is a big win for Louisville. We have all seen marginal quarterbacks excel against Louisville. I don't remember a time that an entire offense has changed its identity in the middle of a game like Florida would have to do. Which brings me to my next point.
STOP. THE. RUN.
Louisville doesn't have a chance of winning this game if they can't slow down Florida's run game. And slowing it down might not even be enough. Florida breaks your will with their defense and running game. Think Alabama only more exotic. Louisville has struggled mightily to stop the spread option all season long and they absolutely have to stop it against Florida. They did very well with Rutgers' pro-style running attack, but Brent Pease is anything but a "pro-style" offensive coordinator. He will spread the field with four receivers and run jet sweeps. He'll put two full backs in the backfield and run the ball right down your throat. There's nothing that he won't do. The issue that he has faced at times is that teams will load the box on him and it has hampered the run game at times. Think about this fact. Florida has forced 29 turnovers and their offense has still only scored 33 touchdowns. Teddy has 26 by himself for Louisville. The issue that Florida has had is simple. As they get closer to the endzone, the field gets smaller and the box gets more and more packed. The issues with the passing game are compounded and the run game suffers. In my opinion Louisville has to load the box and force the Gators to pass the ball. It's that simple and that obvious.
Florida's defense has won games for the team all season. They've gotten timely turnovers and set the offense up with short fields. It's kicking game is second to none in the country with a third team all-american kicker and punter. These are the things that make championship teams. As boring as that might be, it's the truth. Louisville will need to do most, if not all, of the things listed above to win this game. We will have to wait until the game to see if they can pull of the tall tasks.