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 SEC rival, but quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw for two touchdowns and the Cardinals forced three turnovers to defeat Florida 33-23 Wednesday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
In reality, it was no contest, from start to finish.
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.
Bridgewater, a sophomore from Miami, completed 20 of 32 passes for 266 yards and two scores -- a 15-yard fade to DeVante Parker and a 19-yard pass in the right corner of the end zone to Damian Copeland.
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.
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 Andre Debose on the ensuing kick to make it 33-17. The Gators added a late 5-yard touchdown pass from Jeff 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.
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.
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, but Louisville rocked them by jumping to a 24-3 lead less than three minutes before halftime.
Floyd stunned the crowd on the game's first play from scrimmage, catching a Driskel pass that deflected off the hands of Debose and returning it 38 yards untouched for a 7-0 lead.
After a Florida three-and-out, Bridgewater marched the Cardinals 83 yards in 12 plays for another touchdown. Working the middle of the field, Bridgewater converted three third-and-longs and then found fullback B.J. Butler free down the left sideline for a 23-yard gain to the Florida 1. Jeremy Wright got the payoff on a dive over left guard, and the Cardinals led 14-0.
Florida finally got on the board with a 33-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis, but the Gators shot themselves in the foot with an illegal formation and a false-start penalty after having driven the ball inside the Louisville 10.
Louisville extended its lead to 17-3 on Wallace's 27-yard field goal. On the 12-play, 66-yard drive, Bridgewater moved up in the pocket to complete a crossing pattern to Eli Rogers for 15 yards. Bridgewater then found Jalen Harrington wide open on left sideline for a 16-yard gain to the Florida 9.
Bridgewater made it 24-3 with a perfect fade route to Parker in the right corner of the end zone for a 15-yard score.
Florida showed some signs of life with a fourth-down gamble from the Louisville 1-yard line 10 seconds before halftime. The Gators lined up with five men spread wide to the left, leaving just three offensive linemen in front of Driskel. Matt Jones came in motion from right to left, then took a handoff up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown, closing the deficit to 24-10.
NOTES: 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. ... 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.