In the Gators first BCS game since a drubbing of Big East champion Cincinnati in the 2009 season, the Gators sit at 11-1, with one of the top defenses in the country and one of the strongest resumes in the FBS. The Gators are facing Louisville, coached by former Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. Louisville finished the season 10-2, but averaged mediocre statistics on offense and defense and did not play a ranked team all season. According to the online betting website BetOnline.com, the Gators are currently 13.5-point favorites over the Cardinals.
However, this is bowl season; and anything can happen in bowl season. In the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, 7.5-point underdogs Boise State beat the Oklahoma Sooners in stunning fashion. In 2008, the Gators were 10.5-point favorites over Michigan in the Capital One Bowl and lost. And of course, in the 1978 Orange Bowl the Arkansas Razorbacks were 24-point underdogs to the Oklahoma Sooners, but ended up winning 31-6!
Like I have done all season, I will examine the key stats that will affect the game the most.
The Gators averaged a pedestrian 26.8 points per game on the season – good for 75th in the country. Their highest point total was 44 against South Carolina and their lowest was nine against Georgia. However, on the flipside, the Gators ranked 3rd in the country in scoring defense allowing only 12.9 points per game. The Gators allowed the most points on the season against Florida State (26) and allowed the fewest against Kentucky and Jacksonville State (0). The Gators only allowed one team to score greater than 20 points on the season and held six teams to 14 or less points.
Louisville averaged a slightly better than average 31.0 points per game – good for 47th in the country. The Cardinals scored 45 points twice this season (Pittsburgh, Temple) and their season low was 20 (Connecticut, Rutgers). On defense, however, the Cardinals give up nearly double the amount of points the Gators do, giving up 23.8 points per game on the season—37th in the country. Louisville gave up a season high of 45 points against Syracuse and their top defensive performance (7 points) came against Southwest Missouri State.
Florida finished 110th (out of 124) in average number of first downs per game, with a 17.4 per game average. The Gators ended the regular season with 120 rushing first downs, 73 passing first downs and 16 penalty first downs. However, as bad as they were getting first downs on offense, they were outstanding on defense stopping first downs, ranking 9th in the country, giving up only 16.9 first downs per game – which includes giving 30 penalty first downs (9th worst in the country).
Louisville ranked 37th in the country with 22.8 offensive first downs per game. They ended the season with 100 rushing first downs, 158 passing first downs and 16 penalty first downs. On defense, the Cardinals balanced defense gave up 99 rushing first downs, 99 passing first downs and 22 penalty first downs, an average of 18.3 per game – or 23rd in the country.
Both teams are starting quality sophomore quarterbacks with the Gators starting Jeff Driskel and Louisville starting University of Miami transfer, Teddy Bridgewater.
Jeff Driskel has started 11 games for the Gators this season, completing 64.8 percent of his passes for 1,471 yards. Driskel has thrown 11 touchdowns on the season and only three interceptions for a 136.05 QB rating. Driskel averages nearly 20 passes a game for 133.7 yards. However, what makes Driskel an additional threat is his running ability. He is averaging 36.73 yards per game on the ground with four touchdowns.
Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater had a great season slinging the football for the Cardinals, with a 69.0 completion percentage for 3,452 yards. Bridgewater threw 25 touchdowns on the season with seven interceptions for a 161.6 QB rating. Bridgewater averaged 32.25 passes per game for 271 yards per game. Bridgewater, however, is not quite as mobile as Driskel with 67 attempts on the season for only 43 yards and one touchdown.
The Gators have a sizeable advantage over Louisville in rushing attack.
Florida, who ranks 35th in the country, averages 194.08 yards per game rushing. Their 4.58 yard per carry average and 21 touchdowns, have been shouldered by Senior Mike Gillislee who rushed for 1,104 yards and 10 touchdowns on 235 carries. Quarterback Jeff Driskel (404 yards, 4 touchdowns) and running back Matt Jones (259 yards, 2 touchdowns) helped round out the Gators rushing attack.
Louisville’s rushing attack, which ranks 100th in the country with a 127.08 yard per game average, is led by two junior running backs: Jeremy Wright and Senorise Perry. Wright has rushed 186 times for 740 yards and 9 touchdowns, whereas, Rice has rushed for 136 yards for 705 yards and has had 11 touchdowns.
While the Gators and Cardinals have two different types of offense, it is important to look at big play ability (plays of greater 10 yards). The Gators rank 100th in the country with 147 plays of 10-plus yards and have 13 total plays of greater than 50 yards. Louisville sits at 36th in the country with 192 big plays and 14 plays greater than 50 yards.
Both Florida and Louisville have positive turnover margins. Florida rank 5th in the country with a +17 turnover margin with 29 gained turnovers and 12 lost turnovers. Louisville ranks 23rd in the country with a +9 turnover margin with 21 gained turnovers and 12 lost turnovers.