A hidden advantage

NEW ORLEANS — The numbers are heavily slanted. The Florida special teams unit is better than the Cardinals in every major special teams statistic. And you didn't have to inform Louisville head coach Charlie Strong of the difference. He noted it as a large concern for Wednesday night's Sugar Bowl. If the statistics are any indication, special teams could be an area Florida finds an extra advantage.

"You have to play all three phases and their special teams have been outstanding," Louisville head coach Charlie Strong said. "We struggle some games with our special teams, but it's always a key element in the game. Special teams is going to play a critical element in the game.

"We just have to make sure we don't give up the big plays special teams. When it's time to go cover, it's time to go cover. When it's time for us to return, we have to get some return yardage."

It might be more challenging than it sounds. Every special teams statistic points in Florida's favor.

The Gators are seventh in the country in net punting while Louisville is 119th. Kickoff return coverage is just as bad, with the Gators coming in 13th in the country against the Cardinals being 13th in the country.

Florida is 55th in punt return yardage allowed compared to 63rd for Louisville. The Gators are 55th in the country in punt return yardage defense while the Cardinals are 63rd.

The individual statistics are worse.

Florida kicker Caleb Sturgis has 29 total touchbacks on the season. Louisville has five total touchbacks. Sturgis is 23-27 on the year with a long of 51, while Louisville kicker John Wallace is 14-17 with a long of 45, including a miss on his only 50+-yard attempt of the year.

Louisville punter Ryan Johnson averaged 39.5 yards per attempt with 19 punts inside the 20-yard line and just five over 50 yards. Florida punter Kyle Christy has boomed 25 kicks over 50 yards, while dropping 26 inside the 20-yard line with an average of 46.1 yards per punt.

It's lopsided on paper. Florida head coach Will Muschamp wants to make sure that his team stays locked in and doesn't suffer any slippage on special teams with the long break since its last game.

"Clemson could have cost themselves a game getting a blocked extra point (Monday) night," Muschamp said. "Those are the three things I've talked to our team about that we've got to do a good job in."

ADJUSTING TO THE DOME: The Gators have practiced inside the Superdome every day but one since arriving in New Orleans. On Sunday, they made the trip to the New Orleans Saints' training facility to practice since they were hosting the Carolina Panthers to cap the season. Muschamp has tried to simulate game atmospheres as much as possible during those practices.

The Gators are trying to adjust to playing inside for the first time since the 2009 SEC Championship game. There's one part about it that sticks out the most to Muschamp.

"Adjusting the lights," Muschamp said. "We've worked it all week, as far as seeing the punt catchers and kickoff and receivers working and catching the football because it's a little different with the lights in the stadium there. We've worked on that."

It also adds some potential yardage for kicker Caleb Sturgis. He has been comfortable from 50+ throughout his career, but with the dome setting, Muschamp said they might even be comfortable letting Sturgis kick from 55-57 yards on Wednesday night.

"Kicking environment for Sturgis is good for us," Muschamp said.

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