We're officially in BCS mode here on the SEC blog, and with No. 3 Florida taking on No. 21 Louisville in tonight's Allstate Sugar Bowl, we've asked for a little assistance when it comes to checking out tonight's X factors.
Big East/ACC blogger Andrea Adelson dropped by to examine Louisville's X factor, while I'll take a look at the Gators' key player:
Lorenzo Mauldin, So., DE: Florida has had its problems passing this season, and its problems protecting the quarterback. So you have to figure the Cardinals' game plan on defense is going to be to load up the box to stop Mike Gillislee and contain Jeff Driskel. If Florida is forced to pass more than it wants, watch out for Mauldin, who leads the Cardinals with 4.5 sacks on the season. He did miss some time this year with a knee injury, but he is now completely healthy and could very well be an X factor in this game. Florida has given up 36 sacks this season to rank No. 106 in the nation. In a loss to Georgia, Florida gave up five sacks. In a near-loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida gave up five sacks. So the Gators offense can be slowed down. Mauldin is not an every-down player, but a sack specialist. So his role will be even more magnified playing on the end because he will also be relied on to try to seal off the edges should Driskel try to run away from pressure.
Jordan Reed, Jr., TE: Throwing the ball hasn't been the Gators' strength all year, but Reed is easily Florida's best pass-catcher and he was one of the top tight ends in the SEC during the regular season. Reed caught 44 passes for 552 yards and three touchdowns, and if the Gators are going to balance things out offensively tonight, Reed has to make some plays. Louisville's defense doesn't give up a ton of yards and ranks 19th nationally in pass defense, giving up just 193.8 yards per game. The Gators had the SEC's worst passing game, so you know the Cardinals are going to load the box to stop running back Mike Gillislee. That means Florida will need to mix in more passes, and for Driskel to find some sort of comfort on the field, he'll have to get the ball into Reed's hands because he's such a mismatch for Louisville's linebackers. It's a group that could get overwhelmed with a guy like Reed because of his size and speed, and if Reed can make some plays underneath, it will open up the deep ball for Driskel, which is something the Gators haven't had much of this whole season.