NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Terell Floyd and the Louisville Cardinals gave the embattled Big East Conference at least one more triumphant night in a major bowl — and at the expense of a top team from the mighty SEC.
Floyd returned an interception 38 yards for a touchdown on the first play, dual-threat quarterback Teddy Bridgewater directed a handful of scoring drives and No. 22 Louisville stunned the fourth-ranked Gators 33-23 in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday night.
"I can't speak for the whole Big East, but I can speak for Louisville and I think this means a lot for us," Floyd said. "We showed the world we can play with the best."
The Big East is in a transitional phase and losing some of its top football programs in the process. Boise State has recently backed out of its Big East commitment and Louisville has plans to join the ACC.
Even this year, the Big East wasn't getting much respect. Louisville, the league champion, was a two-touchdown underdog in the Sugar Bowl.
But by the end, the chant, "Charlie, Charlie!" echoed from sections of the Superdome occupied by red-clad Cardinals fans. It was their way of serenading third-year Louisville coach Charlie Strong, the former defensive coordinator for the Gators, who has elevated Cardinals football to new heights and recently turned down a chance to leave for the top job at Tennessee.
"I look at this performance tonight, and I sometimes wonder, 'Why didn't we do this the whole season,'" Strong said. "We said this at the beginning: We just take care of our job and do what we're supposed to do, don't worry about who we're playing."
Shaking off an early hit that flattened him and knocked off his helmet, Bridgewater was 20 of 32 passing for 266 yards and two touchdowns. Among his throws was a pinpoint, 15-yard timing toss that DeVante Parker grabbed as he touched one foot down in the corner of the end zone.
"I looked at what did and didn't work for quarterbacks during the regular season," said Bridgewater, picked as the game's top player. "They faced guys forcing throws ... and coach tells me, 'No capes on your back or 'S' on your chest, take what the defense give you.' That's what I took. Film study was vital."
His other scoring strike went to Damian Copeland from 19 yards one play after a surprise onside kick by the Gators backfired. Jeremy Wright had a short touchdown run that gave Louisville (11-2) a 14-0 lead the Gators couldn't overcome.
Florida (11-2) never trailed by more than 10 points this season. The defeat dropped SEC teams to 3-3 this bowl season, with Alabama, Texas A&M and Mississippi still to play.
"We got outcoached and outplayed," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "That's what I told the football team. That's the bottom line."
Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel, who had thrown only three interceptions all season, turned the ball over three times on two interceptions — both tipped passes — and a fumble. He finished 16 of 29 for 175 yards.