Sugar Bowl Notebook: Day 4

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On Sunday, Louisville defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and selected members of the Cardinals’ defense met with reporters to preview Wednesday’s showdown against Florida in New Orleans in the 79th Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Florida Offense Confident, Explosive
The Florida offense has improved throughout the season and enters the Allstate Sugar Bowl matchup with Louisville coming off a strong performance against Florida State. In the 37-26 win over the Seminoles, the Gators scored 24 points in the fourth quarter, the most FSU had surrendered in the fourth quarter at home dating back to at least 1996. Florida rushed for 244 yards on 47 carries (5.2 avg.) and scored three touchdowns on the ground against an FSU defense which had been giving up just 70.6 yards per game. First Team All-SEC running back Mike Gillislee led the way against the Seminoles With 140 yards on 24 carries (5.8 avg.) to take his season totals to 1,104 yards rushing on 235 carries (4.7 avg.).

“They play with a lot of confidence,” Bedford said of the Florida offense. “The offensive line is big and athletic. I think right now the quarterback position, they’re playing better. You could see the confidence building every single game. The receivers are starting to step up. They’re making plays and did an outstanding job versus Florida State. And Gillislee is playing lights out, so we’re very concerned about that running game.”

Gators’ Attack Starts Up Front
The success of the Florida offense begins up front with a talented group of offensive linemen. And it’s not just a group of five guys either as eight different offensive linemen have started games this season and 11 linemen have seen game action. Left tackle Xavier Nixon is the most experienced Gator on the offensive line with 32 starts for UF. The Cardinals’ defensive front will be tested in trying to close down running lanes and pressure the Gators’ passing attack on Wednesday.

“They remind me a little bit of North Carolina,” Bedford said of the Florida offensive line. “North Carolina was big. They were strong. They were athletic. And they can get their hands on you, they present a problem. They do a variety of things on offense. They run power games. They run spread games. So you have to play great technique up front. That’s why we have to move up front. We have to bring linebacker, defensive backs which is what we do already. It’s going to be a major problem. And when Mike gets the ball in his hand, there’s no telling what can happen.”

Decision to Leave Florida for Louisville Not Easy for Bedford
When Charlie Strong accepted the head coaching job at Louisville following the 2009 season, Bedford had just completed his second season on the coaching staff at Florida. While with the Gators, Bedford worked closely with Strong in guiding the UF defense, so it came as no surprise when he was offered the defensive coordinator position by Strong on his first Louisville team. However, the decision on whether to accept the offer was not an easy one for Bedford, whose association with then-Florida head coach Urban Meyer goes back many years. In the end, it was Bedford’s close relationship with Strong that helped him make his final decision, one that has certainly worked well for the Cardinals.

“You know, it really wasn’t, because Urban wanted me to stay with him,” said Bedford on whether the decision to join Strong was an easy one. “Sitting down and talking to my wife, it was tough to make that decision. I’ve known Charlie for a while as I’ve known Urban. I knew Urban when he was a wide receiver coach at Colorado State with Earl Bruce. We go way back. It was an opportunity and a change for me to go out and do different things. I told Charlie, ‘you’ve been an outstanding defensive coordinator for a long time in this league. For me to come and work for you as a defensive coordinator, I’m going to lean on you and trust you.’ He’s been there the entire time with us. That’s one of the reasons why we’re playing great defense. He’s a guy I can go to: What do you think about this, what do you think about that? So we rode together, we’re on the same page together, because of that we’re sitting here today.”

Louisville Train Continues Rolling in 2012
Prior to the 2011 season, Bedford made headlines in Louisville with his energetic “get on the train” speech during the Cardinals’ media day activities. It was an electrifying talk on the future of the Louisville football program and a not-so-subtle urge for fans and media to get on board with what Strong was doing with the Cardinals. That speech became a topic of discussion during Sunday’s media activities with reporters when Bedford was asked to review those comments less than 18 months after his declaration.

“Well, we’re sitting here right now in New Orleans. I think it’s rolling pretty good,” Bedford said. “Because we are ahead of what anyone ever expected us. Who in the country expected us to be sitting right here in the Sugar Bowl, to be in the Sugar Bowl game. It’s heading in the right direction. We have the young talent. We’re a junior/sophomore team. On defense, we only have one senior that’s starting. On offense, we have three seniors that are starting. You’re talking about a young football team, so the future’s ahead of us. And what Tom Jurich has done — he’s moved us into the next era, the era of the ACC. Everything we’re looking for as a coaching staff, as a football team, Tom Jurich has brought to the table for us, so we’re excited to be where we are right now.”

Notable Quotes…
“The sky’s the limit for this team. It’s a bunch of young guys, a bunch of hungry guys. And we have a bunch of coaches who are ready to take it to the top.” — Cornerback Adrian Bushell on the future of Louisville’s program.

“You got to really stay on your toes because you really have to stay on the quarterback. He may run and decide plays quickly, and if he makes you miss like he’s done in a couple of games, you’ll be down for a while.” — Linebacker Preston Brown on Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel.

“We are using this as motivation to show the world what we can do. People are giving Florida a 93 percent chance of winning and that makes us want to show the nation what we can do versus an SEC opponent.” — Defensive end Marcus Smith on the Cardinals’ mentality of being an underdog.

“Yeah, we are having a real good time seeing the city of New Orleans. Coach [Charlie] Strong stresses to us when it’s time to work, you work and when it’s time to have fun, you have fun.” — Defensive end Marcus Smith on being in New Orleans.

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