Louisville will need big games from Calvin Pryor and Teddy Bridgewater to upset Florida
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Calvin Pryor knows what America is thinking about this Sugar Bowl matchup Wednesday night in New Orleans – that the University of Louisville football team did not achieve enough this season to earn this moment against a heavyweight from the Southeastern Conference.
The point spread has held at more than two touchdowns from the moment the U of L-Florida matchup was announced. Florida will be favored by at least 14-1/2 points when the game kicks off in the Louisiana Superdome. National football analysts like Phil Steele are picking the Gators by scores as comfortable as 30-13. That's a king-sized gap for a BCS bowl game.
Some people have wondered if Florida fans are staying away from New Orleans because they're not excited about the opportunity to play Louisville.
He grew up in Florida. He considered playing for the Gators. He has friends on the Florida team. He knows how the entire SEC superiority complex works.
Calvin Pryor also knows there is only one way to change that: Play better than the skeptics believe this University of Louisville football team can play.
Make Florida squirm. Be the aggressor. Deliver the upset.
"I think it's a statement game, more than anything," Pryor said. "We have to go out there and prove ourselves that we can play with the best of them because some people don't think we should be playing in the Sugar Bowl. They think Oklahoma should be. So we just have to go out there and prove ourselves."
Has Charlie Strong and the rest of the University of Louisville coaching staff mentioned that?
"He definitely has," Pryor said. "Every day he reminds us what we're playing for so we can't come out there and get embarrassed. We have to compete with those guys. They're one of the best teams in the nation so we just have to go out and prove ourselves."
Nobody should doubt Pryor's ability to play at that level. Stanford wanted him. Arkansas wanted him. Florida State wanted him. There were others.
But Pryor wanted to play for Charlie Strong. That's the reason he left Port St. Joe High School in the Florida panhandle and signed with the Cardinals. He was a run-first quarterback who hit .400 as a center-fielder for the baseball team and played AAU basketball against Austin Rivers. Calvin Pryor is an SEC-caliber athlete.
Truth be told, Clemson is the place where Pryor wanted to play college football. His uncle, Perez Davis, played on the Clemson offensive line. But the Tigers wanted Pryor to be a running back. He didn't want to run the football. He wanted to play in the secondary.
"I definitely like to hit people," Pryor said. "I like to be the one who delivers the blow. I don't like to get run over. If I get run over, that kind of makes me mad and I get crazy then.
"I took after (former NFL safety) Brian Dawkins. I liked the way he played, his physical play. He did everything hard. You're talking about a Hall of Famer all the way from Clemson. I just thought he was a great player."
Charlie Strong wanted Pryor to knock down passes and hit people. Pryor is a foundational piece of the Cardinals' defensive secondary in a way that Teddy Bridgewater is a foundational piece of the Cardinals' offensive backfield.
He played extensively as a true freshman, moving into the starting lineup for the Rutgers' game. Pryor has been even better as a sophomore, leading the team in solo tackles (48) while rankings second in total hits. He's intercepted two passes, broken up five others and forced four fumbles. They call that a playmaker.
How does he do it?
"Just studying my opponent, knowing where the ball is going to be," Pryor said. "Playing hard and getting to the ball because you never know what could happen once you get to that pile. I just like to get to that pile and be a ball hawk."
Now Pryor gets his opportunity to get to that pile and be a ball hawk against Florida, a team ranked third in the country, a team that defeated three Top 10 teams, and a program that aspires to national championships.
Not many people are picking the upset.
"It doesn't really make a difference what people say," Pryor said. "It's all about who is the best team that day. We're not going to play them two weeks down the road after that. It's all going to be about who is the best team that day and the preparation."