NEW ORLEANS -- Entering Wednesday’s game, Florida wide receiver Andre Debose had not played since the team’s Oct. 27 loss to Georgia, a game marred by uncharacteristic turnover problems.
Debose has long drawn the ire of coaches for poor practice habits and a bad attitude, but coach Will Muschamp lauded his efforts during bowl practice.
He was targeted on the first play from scrimmage, but the pass from quarterback Jeff Driskel was behind Debose, who tipped the into the hands of Louisville cornerback Terell Floyd. Floyd returned the interception 38 yards for a touchdown to give the Cardinals a 7-0 lead just seconds into the game.
The score marked the first defensive touchdown of season for the Cardinals. Debose had two catches for 11 yards on the season entering Wednesday’s game.
Until the last drive of the second quarter, Driskel struggled mightily in the first half, going 3 of 7 for 32 yards until leading a scoring drive to make it 24-10.
Past and present
As a program, Florida has a rich tradition at the Sugar Bowl. The Gators won their first national championship in the Superdome following the 1996 season.
It was fitting then that some of the biggest names in program history were on hand Wednesday, with NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith and Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel handling the coin toss. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali and former NFL linebacker Tom Jackson represented Louisville.
Former quarterback and national title winner Chris Leak was on the field pregame throwing passes to current players, and of course, there was Tim Tebow, who also showed up on the sidelines pregame and did a TV interview. In Leak, Tebow and Wuerffel all three of Florida’s national title-winning quarterbacks were in attendance.
Like the 2010 Sugar Bowl, UF struggled to sell out its ticket allotment, coming up more than 10,000 tickets short of the 17,500 total. As of kickoff, team spokesman Steve McClain confirmed the university had sold just more than 7,000 tickets.
Muschamp was asked about the issue Tuesday, and he pointed to the struggling economy and the various ways to acquire tickets outside of the university athletic association.
“Obviously, right now, with the economics, we’re going through a tough time in the country,” he said. “I think that certainly has affected everyone, not just Gator fans. … And there’s different ways to get tickets other than going through the university athletic association. Obviously we’re seeing a little bit of a loophole.”
The game was not close to a sell out, and Louisville fans greatly outnumbered Florida fans.
This and that
• Wednesday’s game against Louisville marked the ninth time Florida has played in the Sugar Bowl. UF held a 3-5 record coming in. The Gators last played in the Sugar Bowl following the 2009 season, when Tebow led Florida to a 51-24 win over Cincinnati in his last game at Florida.
• Florida trailed 14-0 midway through the first quarter Wednesday night, marking the team’s biggest deficit this season — until Louisville opened up a 21-point lead just before halftime.