Penalties sour Sugar Bowl for Gators

NEW ORLEANS — Despite an impressive 11-win campaign, it is a problem that has plagued the Florida Gators throughout the season.

Lacking discipline, seemingly out of character for a team coached by Will Muschamp, has caused Florida to be one of the most penalized teams in the country during the regular season.

On the biggest stage of the year, a Sugar Bowl matchup with No. 21 Louisville, No. 3 Florida’s propensity for penalties again reared its ugly head in a 33-23 loss Wednesday night in the Superdome.

“Disappointing,” said a downtrodden Muschamp after the game. “Penalties are disappointing. Gotta continue to work on it.”

It is a tune Muschamp has sung throughout the season.

In a season-opening win against Bowling Green, the Gators racked up 14 penalties for 106 yards. Afterward, Muschamp vowed to make changes to become a more disciplined team.

However, Florida racked up the 20th-most penalties in all of college football in 2012, including four separate games following Bowling Green where the Gators had 10 penalties or more.

Florida didn’t quite reach that number Wednesday night — the Gators finished with nine penalties for 98 yards — but the timing of the miscues and lack of discipline severely hampered any potential comeback effort.

It began on Louisville’s first offensive play of the night. Pressuring Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Gators middle linebacker Jon Bostic was flagged for a personal foul after hitting Bridgewater in the head, something defensive players are taught to avoid.

But players want to make plays. Aggression penalties aren’t the underlying issue — undisciplined penalties, however, are. And there were a number of those Wednesday night, sometimes coming two at a time.

Trailing 24-10 and kicking to open the second half, Muschamp dialed up an onside kick in an attempt to swing the momentum. Say what you will about the decision itself, but the ensuing chaos was the epitome of an undisciplined team.

Louisville recovered. Florida started throwing punches and earning penalties.

Chris Johnson, who largely only plays on special teams, was displeased with the actions of a handful of Louisville players. So he took a swing, one that earned him a personal foul penalty and an early trip to the locker room as he was ejected from the game.

“I feel like I cost us the Sugar Bowl,” Johnson said after the game. “I wish I hadn’t done it.”

But Johnson’s infraction wasn’t the only one on the play. Loucheiz Purifoy was also hit with a 15-yard penalty. The two undisciplined displays, coupled with the botched onside kick, gave Louisville the ball at Florida’s 19-yard line.

A play later, Bridgewater completed a touchdown pass to Damian Copeland to effectively end the game.

“For some of these young guys that come back next year, I hope they learn from this,” Omar Hunter said. “It’s disappointing. It’s something the team is going to have to continue to work on moving forward.”