NEW ORLEANS -- The Big East champ in the Big Easy proved too much for an SEC powerhouse.
No. 22 Louisville entered the Allstate Sugar Bowl as a two-touchdown underdog to its highly regarded and fourth-ranked Florida, but quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw for two touchdowns and the Cardinals forced three turnovers to defeat the Gators 33-23 Wednesday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
In reality, it was no contest, from start to finish.
The big national stage wasn't too overwhelming for Bridgewater, who completed 20 of 32 passes for 266 yards with one interception. His touchdown passes were a 15-yard fade to DeVante Parker in the second quarter and a 19-yard pass in the right corner of the end zone to Damian Copeland in the third quarter, helping the Cardinals race to a 33-10 lead.
"He is without a doubt one of the best quarterbacks in the country," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said of Bridgewater, the sophomore from Miami who earned the game's MVP award.
"We always say we need to take this football program to a different level," Strong added. "If you just look at this game, we just physically matched up and we were able to just overpower the No. (4) team in the country. We knew this was a big game for us. It sets the tone for next season for this whole program."
The Cardinals (11-2) scored on a pick-six by cornerback Terell Floyd on Florida's first play from scrimmage, and Bridgewater did the rest by keeping the usually dominant Gators defense off-balance with his pocket movement and rifle arm.
"It was a curl route, and the ball was tipped, and Terell made an unbelievable play on the ball and he goes and scores," Strong said. "We felt if we could get a lead, we could maintain a lead because they weren't a team to produce a lot of points."
On the interception, Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel said he threw the ball behind Andre Debose, causing Debose to deflect the ball to Floyd.
"(Debose) tried to make a play on it and tipped it right to the guy," Driskel said.
Floyd said, "I just wanted to get that ball and get to the end zone. We were just trying to prove to everyone we belong here. Everyone was doubting us and saying this game was going to be a blowout. We took it personal."
Strong, who in his third year took the Cardinals to their first BCS bowl victory, said he was mesmerized by Bridgewater's play. In the first half, the Cardinals went 5-for-6 on third-down conversions. Through the first three quarters, Louisville went 8-for-11 and Florida 0-for-6 on third-down conversions.
The final score could have been more one-sided.
"We left a lot of points on the field," Strong said.
Louisville kicker John Wallace had an extra-point attempt blocked and missed field goals of 43 and 41 yards in the second half before connecting on a 30-yarder with 7:54 left, giving Louisville a 33-10 lead.
Florida (11-2) got a Sugar Bowl-record, 100-yard kickoff return by Debose on the ensuing kick to make it 33-17. The Gators added a late 5-yard touchdown pass from Driskel to Kent Taylor to close within 33-23 with 2:13 left. However, defensive end Marcus Smith sacked Driskel on the two-point-conversion attempt, snuffing out the Gators' last chance.
"We got outcoached and outplayed," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "That's the bottom line. You go out and you get beat, you get beat."
Trailing 24-10 at halftime, Florida tried to switch the momentum with an onside kick to start the second half, but it backfired. Louisville recovered, and the Gators were called for two personal-foul penalties, moving the ball 30 yards to the Florida 19. Bridgewater hit Copeland for a touchdown on the next play, making it 30-10.
"We felt like it was there, but we hit it too hard," Muschamp said of the onside attempt. "We wanted to steal a possession at the start of the second half."
NOTES: Louisville, which will leave the Big East for the ACC in 2014, recorded its first 11-win season since 2006... The Gators had not trailed by more than 10 points in any game this season. ... The interception return for a touchdown by Floyd was the first defensive score of the year for the Cardinals. ... While Louisville fans were excited by their team's appearance in its first-ever BCS bowl game, Florida fans were not happy about the Sugar Bowl matchup. Large pockets of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome were empty. The announced crowd was 54,178. By comparison, the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl between Louisiana-Lafayette and East Carolina in December drew 48,828. ... Former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, the "Louisville Lip," joined former University of Louisville and Denver Broncos linebacker Tom Jackson for the coin toss. Ali, who is fighting Parkinson's disease, rode on and off the field in a golf cart.