Press Conference Audio from CardsTV: Head Coach Charlie Strong
National Title Contending Gators Present Big Challenge
The BIG EAST champion Louisville Cardinals, ranked as highly as No. 18 in the USA Today coaches’ poll, will face a stiff challenge when they line up against the Florida Gators on Jan. 2 in the 79th Allstate Sugar Bowl (8:30 p.m., ET, ESPN). At 11-1 overall, the Gators’ only loss of the season was a narrow 17-9 defeat to the hands of Georgia, which kept UF out of the SEC championship game and an opportunity to play for the national championship. Florida’s resume is highly impressive with wins over nationally ranked teams Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State.
“If you look at the team that we are going to go face, they were one game away from playing for a national championship,” said Cardinals’ head coach Charlie Strong of Florida during his press conference on Monday afternoon. “And who’s to say who should be in that game, but we took that draw and I’m just so happy for us as a program. I don’t know what the spread is right now, but I know it’s probably fairly large. It gives our players a little motivation where they know that they have to go play. They have respect for that program because with the number of players we have on this team from the State of Florida, they know what that program is all about and who we are facing.”
Running Game Anchors Florida Offense
Florida is a run-first team evidenced by the nearly 2-to-1 ratio of rush attempts to pass attempts (509-to-259) this season. The Gators check in with the No. 35 rushing offense nationally at 194.50 yards per game. However, of their 509 rushing attempts, the Gators have only found the end zone 21 times on the ground. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is completing 64.8 percent of his throws, but has only thrown three interceptions this season. Additionally, Driskel runs the ball once for every two times he throws it. The Gators average just 143.9 yards through the air this season.
“They are a very physical football team,” said Strong of the Gators. (They) do a very good job on offense of running the ball. (Mike) Gillislee is a big-time running back. (He) runs behind his pads and runs very hard. (Jeff) Driskel is a quarterback who can beat you with his feet or with his hands. (He) gets outside the pocket. (He is) strong enough and mobile enough where he can run down the field. Then, their offensive line, with (Jonotthan) Harrison, (Jon) Halapio and with (James) Wilson – some of those guys were young when I was there. Now, they have a chance to step up and they are really playing well. They are doing a really good job of just running the ball.”
Impressive Stats Follow Gators’ Top Level Defense
Defense has been the staple of the Gators over the years and this season is no exception. Florida ranks fifth nationally in total defense allowing 283.42 yards per game. In addition, the Gators are first in pass efficiency defense (91.59), third in scoring defense (12.92), tied for fifth in turnover margin (0.75) and 15th in passing defense (186.42). Florida has intercepted 19 passes this season.
“Defensively, they are probably top five in every category from scoring defense to pass efficiency defense to turnover margin ,” explained Strong. “That is a top-notch defense. You look at the front four with (Dominique) Easley and Lerentee McCray, guys that have been in that program for a while. Then the secondary with (Matt) Elam – he’s been the safety there in the secondary. Then, with (Jonathan) Bostic and Jelani Jenkins being their linebackers. They are juniors and seniors, so it is a really good defense. It’s going to be a challenge for us. Their special teams are really solid. (It is) a really good challenge for us and we have almost a month to get ready for it. It’s great for this program and it’s good to go play a top-notch program.”
Sugar Bowl Provides Historic Stage for Louisville
Entering its 79th year in existence, the Sugar Bowl has established itself as one of the elite bowl games in college football history. With long-standing ties to numerous national champions and some of the greatest players in the history of the game, the Sugar Bowl will provide the Louisville football program a unique opportunity to compete on what is without question one of the brightest stages in all of college athletics. The Cardinals will become just the 18th school in history to participate in the Sugar Bowl (2013), Orange Bowl (2007) and Fiesta Bowl (1991) — three of the most elite bowl games in college football.
“You think about the Sugar Bowl, I can remember in the (19)90s when I was at Florida, it was almost a home for us,” explained Strong. “But, that was before the BCS started. Once you won the Southeastern Conference, you went and played in the Sugar Bowl. It was a big stage for you. Then, before I took this job, my last game was when we played Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl. But, it’s great for this program. It’s going to be a great stage for our players and they deserve it. Just the way they played, they deserve to be on this stage. It’s an elite program you’re playing. If we want this program here to get to where it needs to get to and become consistent, then that’s the stage we need to be on.”