It’s somewhat of a media folly.
Occasionally, the wording of questions in a press conference — perhaps even the entire question — seems so obvious that it couldn’t possibly be asked. But, of course, it is.
As the No. 3 Florida Gators (11-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) and No. 21 Louisville Cardinals (10-2, 5-2 Big East) prepare for the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m., both Gators coach Will Muschamp and Cardinals coach Charlie Strong have been asked perhaps the most ridiculous question that could come from the mouth of a reporter: Is it important to win this game?
“Do you feel like you’re under a lot of pressure, and how important is this game to you to win?” one reporter asked Muschamp Tuesday in his final official press conference prior to the game.
“I know you want to win every game, but how important do you view this opportunity against Florida?” another directed toward Strong.
Turns out, both Muschamp and Strong would rather win the Sugar Bowl than lose it. Guess that shouldn’t have been much of a surprise, but it is a question that has to be asked, you know, just to make sure that is the case.
Here are the five keys to ensure Muschamp is the winning coach Wednesday night.
5. Exploit special teams
A big part of Florida’s 11 wins this season has been the Gators’ special teams unit. Caleb Sturgis and Kyle Christy have been perhaps the best kicking duo in the nation, giving the Gators a real advantage.
Playing in a dome, Muschamp said he would be comfortable running Sturgis out for a 55-yard field goal, maybe longer. Monday, Christy said he has been booming punts upward of 70 yards when practicing in the Superdome.
Clearly, kicking should be an advantage for the Gators.
But so should the return game. Louisville has struggled in that aspect of the game this season, and Florida has the skilled players to make the Cardinals pay. Loucheiz Purifoy and Andre Debose will be returning kickoffs, while Marcus Roberson will be handling punt return duties.
Setting the offense up with good field position will be, as always, helpful.
4. Will the real No. 1 receiver please stand up?
Florida has had trouble passing the ball effectively throughout the season. Partly, that is because Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease have limited the offense to help sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel succeed.
But a large part of that is the receivers’ inability to make plays. Jordan Reed, a tight end, is the most effective receiving threat. As always, Reed will likely play a large part in the passing game. But it is time a receiver makes some plays.
Quinton Dunbar has been solid at times, as has Frankie Hammond Jr. Those efforts must improve, however.
When the Gators were last in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 2010, Tim Tebow put on a show throwing to Riley Cooper and basically anyone else on the Gators roster that could catch the ball.
Driskel said he would love to match that type of offense Wednesday night. To come even close, someone in the receiving corps must step into the spotlight.
3. Win the turnover battle
When Muschamp was not being asked how important it was to win this game Tuesday, he was asked what the biggest difference has been in his defense this season.
“Number one is takeaways,” Muschamp said. “You want to look at the difference in seasons, look at turnover margin. That’s been the huge difference in our football season from this year to last year, is turnover margin.
Florida is one of the nation’s best units in turnover margin, but creating takeaways could be difficult against Louisville. Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is one of the most accurate passers in the nation, completing 69 percent of his passes and throwing just seven interceptions in the regular season.
Forcing fumbles, a specialty of Florida’s defensive unit this season, might be a better alternative to create takeaways.
2. Use Gillislee and Driskel in the run game
Take away yards lost from sacks and Driskel had the highest yards per carry on the team. Mike Gillislee finished the regular season with 1,104 rushing yards. Obviously, that has been the focus of the Gators offensively this season.
Louisville’s defense plays into that particularly well. Strong said he has seen improvement in his team’s run defense, but it still has a long way to go before it becomes one of the team’s strengths.
In games played against FBS opponents, the Cardinals ranked No. 50 in the country, allowing 155.8 yards per game on the ground. Up front, Louisville lacks the depth across the line to match Florida throughout the game, something the Gators need to exploit.
1. Contain Teddy Bridgewater
Florida has faced many talented quarterbacks this season, including Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. However, UF safety Matt Elam declared Bridgewater would be the most talented quarterback the Gators would face.
Bridgewater is near the top of the nation in a number of passing statistics. He completes 69 percent of his passes and has thrown for 25 touchdowns.
Additionally, he is able to make plays with his legs, though Muschamp said the Gators are preparing more for Bridgewater’s arm than his legs.
Strong admitted Tuesday his offense runs through Bridgewater. To win, the Gators must limit him.