NEW ORLEANS — Louisville cornerback Terrell Floyd’s 38-yard interception return for the Cardinals’ first score of Wednesday night’s Suger Bowl came just 15 seconds into the No. 21-ranked Cardinals’ 33-23 upset of No. 3 Florida at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
But the return set aside an old historical footnote. It was the first defensive touchdown to open a Sugar Bowl in more than seven decades.
The last time a defensive score put the first points on the board came in 1942.
In that game, the eighth Sugar Bowl played, Fordham’s Alex Santilli blocked a Missouri punt, which was tracked down by Stanley Ritinksi as he slid out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
They were the only points the Rams needed in a 2-0 victory on a soggy and muddy New Year’s Day matchup in front 66,154 fans at Tulane Stadium.
Floyd’s score, which put Louisville ahead 7-0, proved more electrifying after Florida wide receiver Andre Debose couldn’t snare quarterback Jeff Driskel’s first pass of the game.
Debose knocked the ball in the air, setting up Floyd’s interception.
The ties between Louisville coach Charlie Strong and Florida are a well-worn storyline.
And the final batch of commitments secured by Strong, the Gators’ defensive coordinator from 2003-09, left behind nice building pieces before his departure to the Cardinals.
Before taking the helm of the Cardinals, Strong locked up pledges from:
- Senior linebacker Jonathan Bostic, a 6-1, 246-pound prospect from Palm Beach, Fla., who was a four-star prospect.
- Debose, a 6-0, 189-pound junior, who was five-star talent out of Sanford, Fla.
- Senior running back Mike Gillislee (6-1, 209), a four-start recruit from DeLand, Fla.
- Jelani Jenkins, a 6-2, 237-pound linebacker from Olney, Md., and a five-star recruit.
Gillislee led the Gators with 1,104 yards and 10 touchdowns on 235 carries entering the game as the primary ball carrier in offensive coordinator Brent Pease’s motion-heavy system.
As for Bostic, he’s become a stable entity at the middle linebacker spot, racking up 61 tackles and three sacks this season.
How does this look?
In sartorial matters, Florida made the choice to don its orange pants with customary home blue jerseys.
Traditionally, the Gators, who were designated the home team, wear white pants with their home tops, but the orange pants were a twist.
Florida usually dons the tangerine-colored bottoms as an alternate option with its road uniform. The Southeastern Conference East Division runners-up kept their standard orange helmets.
As far as Louisville, the Big East Conference Champions went stock: White jerseys, white pants and white helmets.
Favorite son shows
A stroll among the masses packed into the French Quarter on the eve of the Sugar Bowl presented a curious sight: Scores of Florida fans clad in Gators jerseys bearing No. 15.
Yes, Tim Tebow wrapped up his collegiate career in 2009.
But the Heisman Trophy winner returned to New Orleans on Wednesday and the Superdome, where he wrapped up his collegiate career with a 51-24 victory against Cincinnati.
Tebow, who only threw for 39 yards on 6 of 8 passing and added 102 yards rushing for the New York Jets, graced ESPN’s stage for a pregame appearance.
He was milling about the sidelines as Florida worked through its pregame warmups about an hour before kickoff.
Kick in the books
Trailing 14-0, Florida kicker Caleb Sturgis easily booted a 31-yard field goal through the uprights with 14:50 left in the first half.
The kick also put Sturgis, a 5-11, 184-pound senior from St. Augustine, Fla., in the records books for a single-season record for field goals with 24, surpassing Bobby Raymond’s mark set in 1984.
Advocate sportswriter Ted Lewis contributed to this report.