NEW ORLEANS — While there were countless ugly plays, two plays — more than the others — got the Florida Gators beat here Wednesday.
The first play began the first half while the second play began the second half, giving momentum away at two of the most crucial moments of the game.
Obviously, the Gators’ first play from scrimmage was one of them. It set the tone for No. 21 Louisville’s 33-23 Sugar Bowl upset of No. 3 Florida in the Superdome.
The first play that got the Gators beat happened so quickly that the smoke from the team’s pregame, fireworks fueled entrance had yet to clear up.
It dazed the Gators and from that moment on, they were essentially smoked.
“It was a quick momentum shift and gave them a lot of momentum with the Pick 6,” said safety Matt Elam, who announced his intentions to enter the NFL draft after the game along with defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. “They were on fire after that and felt like they were going to be victorious.”
Out of a short shotgun snap, Driskel did a quick three-step drop and step up in the pocket to fire a pass to Andre Debose on a quick out route. Apparently, Driskel thought Debose was going to go a little farther out as he led him a hair too much. Debose got his outstretched right hand on the ball, which deflected it into the hair where Terrell Floyd was waiting to make the gift-wrapped “Pick 6.”
“It was an emotional game and that was an emotional play,” Elam said. “But we had been in that situation before. I almost feel like we play better as a team when we have to come from behind, so I felt like we were still in it.
“It’s football, so there’s going to be ups and downs — it’s just how you respond to it.”
The second play that got the Gators beat was even tougher to respond to in a positive way as a failed onside kick attempt to open the second half put the Gators in an even deeper hole.
Following behind the ball as it bounced downfield about 12-14 yards off of kicker Caleb Sturgis; foot, Florida’s Chris Johnson made a diving attempt but didn’t come up with the all. Johnson traded words with UL’s Jarel McGriff-Culver, who recovered the ball, before throwing a quick jab that got Johnson thrown out of the game and resulted in a 15-yard penalty.
“I feel like I cost us the Suagr Bowl,” Johnson said. “I wish I hadn’t have done it.”
One play and 19 yards later, Teddy Bridgewater hit Damian Copeland for a touchdown that put the Gators down 30-10 only eight seconds into the second half.
The few thousand orange and blue faithful sprinkled among the 54,178 in attendance — the worst turnout for a Sugar Bowl since 1939 — were stunned and the Gators were dazed even more than before, confused to be trailing by three touchdowns.
That wasn’t the plan coming out of a spirited locker room speech by coach Will Muschamp. The plan, obviously, was to recover the onside kick, go down and then to march down the field for a touchdown to make it a one-possession game.
“We felt like it was there — we hit it too hard,” Muschamp said of the decision to try the onside kick. “It’s something that both their guys were lined up outside the hash. We game-planned it and felt good about it.
There are no published statistics for the success rate of “surprise” onside kicks in college football, although one study for the NFL said it was successful about 60 percent of the time from 2001-10, while anticipated onside kicks were about 20 percent successful.
“We wanted to steal possession at the start of the second half,” Muschamp said. “We had struggled defensively in the first half and felt like we wanted to try to gain some momentum in the game.”
Instead, “ol’ mo” swung even more into the Cardinals’ favor — and Florida could never steal it back.