NEW ORLEANS — Terell Floyd returned an interception 38 yards for a touchdown on the first play, Teddy Bridgewater directed three more scoring drives and No. 22 Louisville jumped to a 24-10 halftime lead over heavily favored No. 4 Florida in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday night.
Shaking off an early hit that flattened him and knocked off his helmet, Bridgewater was 12 of 17 passing for 180 yards, including a pinpoint timing toss that DeVante Parker acrobatically grabbed as he touched one foot down in the corner of the end zone.
Jeremy Wright added short touchdown run for Louisville and John Wallace connected on a 27-yard field goal. Quite a start for the two-touchdown underdogs.
Florida had not trailed by more than 10 points in a game all season. It did not get on the board until Caleb Sturgis’s 33-yard field goal early in the second quarter, which made it 14-3.
The Gators finally got in the end zone with a trick play in the closing second of the half. They changed personnel as if to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 1, but lined up in a bizarre combination of swinging-gate and shotgun formations and handed off to Matt Jones.
Jones met only minimal resistance as he crashed into the end zone to cap an 11-play, 74-yard drive that included four straight completions and four straight runs by Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel.
After Louisville native Muhammad Ali was on the field for the coin toss, the Cardinals quickly stung the Gators. Floyd, one of nearly three dozen Louisville players from the state of Florida, made the play.
Driskel was 7 of 12 for 77 yards. His interception was only his fourth all year. He was looking for seldom-targeted receiver Andre Debose, who had only two catches all season coming in. The throw was a bit behind Debose and the receiver tipped it, making for an easy catch and score for Floyd.
Oddly, Louisville had only 10 defenders on the field until only moments before the snap, when safety Jermaine Reve darted out from the sideline and immediately found a Florida receiver to cover.
When Louisville’s offense got the ball later in the quarter, the Florida defense, ranked among the best in the nation this season, sought to intimidate the Cardinals with one heavy hit after another. Then again, Cardinals coach Charlie Strong was plenty familiar with many of these Gators — he was their defensive coordinator before moving to Louisville after the 2009 season.
One blow by Jon Bostic knocked Bridgewater’s helmet off moments after he’d floated an incomplete pass down the right sideline. Bostic was called for a personal foul, however, which seemed to get the Cardinals drive rolling. Later, Wright lost his helmet during a 3-yard gain and took another heavy hit before he went down.
Louisville kept coming, though.
B.J. Butler turned a short catch into a 23-yard gain down to the Florida 1. Then Wright punched it in to give the Cardinals an early two-TD lead over a Southeastern Conference opponent that lost only one this season and finished third in the BCS standings, one spot too low to play for a national title in Miami.
Louisville won the Big East berth to this game. They beat Rutgers in late November to virtually lock up the conference title, sealing that win on a late interception by Floyd.