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Sugar Bowl loss exposes Florida Gators' weaknesses

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel hits the ground under pressure from Louisville linebacker James Burgess during the first half of a disappointing Sugar Bowl performance for the Gators offense.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel hits the ground under pressure from Louisville linebacker James Burgess during the first half of a disappointing Sugar Bowl performance for the Gators offense.

NEW ORLEANS — In No. 4 Florida's 33-23 loss to No. 22 Louisville in Wednesday night's Sugar Bowl, the issues that plagued UF throughout the season appeared all in one game to lead to its undoing — starting with its struggling offense.

The Gators entered the game ranked No. 101 in the nation in total offense and were held to 286 total yards in the game. Florida averaged 194 rushing yards going in but gained just 111 and was 3-of-10 on third downs.

Florida had three turnovers for just the third time this season, and it was penalized nine times for 98 yards — including 45 yards during one drive, and another drive in which a false start penalty forced it to settle for a 33-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis early in the second quarter. UF led the SEC in penalties this season.

Florida had eight come-from-behind victories this season, but when Louisville took a 7-0 lead on Terell Floyd's 38-yard interception return of a Jeff Driskel pass 15 seconds into the game, it changed everything for Florida and played right into Louisville's hands.

"We felt like if we could get a lead that we could maintain that lead, because they weren't a team to produce a lot of points," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said.

Florida's offensive struggles have been a season-long issue. More baffling was the defense. Florida, ranked No. 5 nationally in total defense, held the Cardinals' running game in check but was unable to stop QB Teddy Bridgewater, the Big East offensive player of the year who was 20-of-32 for 266 yards.

"Got outcoached and outplayed," Florida second-year coach Will Muschamp said. "That's what I told the football team. That's the bottom line. You go out and you get beat, you get beat. And that's what happened."

ELAM, FLOYD LEAVING: Junior S Matt Elam and junior DE Dominique Easley said after the game they will forgo their senior seasons for the NFL.

"It's always been my dream to play in the NFL," Elam said. "I want to take care of my family." Floyd said he made the decision when the game ended.

PURIFOY OKAY: Sophomore CB/WR Loucheiz Purifoy suffered a bruised thigh on a kickoff return with 14:48 left in the third quarter. With one reception in the game, Purifoy became the first UF defensive starter since Keiwan Ratliff in the 2003 Outback Bowl to catch a pass.

Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com.

Sugar Bowl loss exposes Florida Gators' weaknesses 01/03/13 [Last modified: Thursday, January 3, 2013 7:19pm]
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