NEW ORLEANS (WDRB) -- Las Vegas is calling the University of Louisville football team a two-touchdown underdog (actually, 14.5 points) to the Florida Gators in tonight's AllState Sugar Bowl in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Are they right, and what can U of L do to assure a different outcome? Read on.
The keys for U of L are straightforward:
1. Protect No. 5. Teddy Bridgewater is U of L's hope, and coaches appear poised to put the attack in his hands. The Cardinals need ball possession and a true West Coast attack against Florida's superior defense. The Cardinals need to spread the field, let Bridgewater move the sticks with a quick passing game and hope to strike deep once Florida adjusts to shut down the possession passing. Regardless, Bridgewater likely is going to have to put the ball into the air for 40-plus attempts.
2. Corvin Lamb. Jeremy Wright has been the running back of choice since Seniorse Perry went down with a season-ending injury, but Lamb is the one U of L backfield player who can match the speed he'll see on the other side of the ball -- plus he has a chip on his shoulder because Florida passed him over. Lamb has the speed to make the most of space on short passes, and has enough power to pound out short gains up the middle. The outside running game doesn't figure to be there for U of L. There may be plays where Lamb can get the corner and wideouts can get it blocked, but Florida pursues with such speed and in such great numbers that sweeps or outside zone runs should be kept to a minimum. Fans may not like to see runs between the tackles, but against an athletically superior line, picking your spots and pounding three yards up the middle can be a useful play.
3. Limiting big plays. If the Cards want to stay in this game, let alone win it, they can't allow a return touchdown. Florida has multiple players capable of delivering those. Kickoffs and punts are likely to be hold-your-breath moments for U of L fans, but if the Cards can keep the Gators from big plays in special teams (including blocked kicks), their chances increase significantly.
Florida's superiority on paper is as significant as Vegas says it is. But sometimes a look at the Gators' results doesn't match that image on the paper. A 14-7 win over Missouri? Just 23-0 over Jacksonville State? Or 27-20 over Louisiana Monroe?
The opportunity is there for Louisville, but it's going to take a next-level type of performance from Bridgewater to get it, and a level of play from the defense and special teams that U of L has yet to turn in this season.
The Cards can't fall behind early. I'd go so far as to take the ball if winning the coin toss. Florida's offense isn't fearsome, but the Gators are athletic, and are capable of breaking open a close game with special teams play even if the defense is doing its job.
I expect Bridgewater to play well and the receivers to respond. I don't expect U of L's line to be able to handle Florida's defensive front. The Cards will have to rely on scheme and quick-strike offense to keep Bridgewater upright. Knowing Charlie Strong, I don't expect the Cards to take unnecessary chances that would expose Bridgewater to possible punishment, particularly early in the game.
There may be new wrinkles from both coaching staffs. But with Florida having a big edge in defense, special teams and the running game, I don't see how U of L overcomes it, no matter how well Bridgewater and the offense play.