Charlie Strong Leads the Cardinals to Victory Over the Gators

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Louisville Cardinals coach Charlie Strong, the one-time defensive coordinator at Florida, led his team to an upset 33-23 victory over the Gators in the Allstate Sugar Bowl Wednesday night.

Cardinals’ cornerback Terell Floyd ignited the heavily populated Louisville fan base in the Superdome when he returned a 38-yard interception for a touchdown on the first play. Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater managed to break apart the Gators defense with his passing game, which caught the Gators by surprise.

When time finally expired, the Louisville crowd began to chant “Charlie, Charlie!” from all sections of the Superdome. Strong, who is in his third-year as Louisville head coach, has propelled the program to a household name since Bobby Petrino was head coach. He recently decided to stay at Louisville, instead of becoming the Tennessee Volunteers head coach.

Strong stayed at the university because of the love for his players, who motivated him just as much as he motivated him.

“It’s not so much me. … I told our players I love them so much and I respect them so much, and the reason why I did not go take that job, because I know I have a football team that is behind me 100 percent,” Strong said. “I’m in the position I’m in right now because of what they did, and I told them that. I said, ‘Guys, people are calling me just because of what you’ve done — nothing I’ve done.'”

One of the guys that did his part was Bridgewater, who picked as the game’s top player. He was 20 for 32 passing for 266 yards and two touchdowns against the Gators. But Bridgewater took some vital words from Strong and applied them to the game.

“They faced guys forcing throws … and coach tells me, `No capes on your back or ‘S’ on your chest, take what the defense give you.’ That’s what I took,” Bridgewater said.

The Gators were the heavy favorites entering Wednesday’s game never trailing by more than 10 points this season. They entered the game with just one loss in the Southeastern Conference against the Georgia Bulldogs.

“We got out-coached and outplayed,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “That’s what I told the football team. That’s the bottom line.”

Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel picked a bad time to have one of his worse games of the season. Entering the game he had thrown only three interceptions for the entire season, but turned the ball over three times on two interceptions and a fumble. Driskel finished 16 of 29 for 175 yards.

The Louisville defense was fierce all night long. They did not allow the Gators to get on the score board until Caleb Sturgis’s 33-yard field goal early in the second quarter. The Louisville defense came up big when Gators tried to mount a comeback in the fourth quarter. Andre Debose reached the end zone on a 100-yard kickoff return and tight end Kent Taylor caught a pass from Driskel with 2:13 left in the game. But the Louisville defense denied Driskel a 2-point conversion, which sealed the game.

The Cardinals overall performance left Strong in amazement.

“I look at this performance tonight, and I sometimes wonder, `Why didn’t we do this the whole season,” Strong said. “We said this at the beginning: We just take care of our job and do what we’re supposed to do, don’t worry about who we’re playing.”

Strong will use this win as momentum to carry into next season as they enter the ACC, with the hopes of playing for the BCS National Championship next season.

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