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Tebow gives UF hope for big future
October 7, 2007
Is it possible for the Florida Gators to peer through their pain, the disappointment of a missed opportunity to shock the nation, and see there is something better not too far away as long as Tim Tebow is in charge?
Because that should be the Gators' focus once they get over this defeat to LSU. That won't be easy, but it's essential for the Gators, who had the best team in football retreating until the Tigers scored with less than two minutes left to escape with a 28-24 victory.
The Gators shouldn't spend too much time lamenting what went wrong in the end, because that's important only in the short term. More important is how their good fight Saturday will serve them well as they gear up for an inevitable run to another title in 2008.
And the best reason to feel good about next year is Tebow, Florida's unconventional quarterback. He is so good he can make all the usual theories and common wisdom mean nothing in the face of his rumbling rushes and powerful passes.
Some people (hand raised) insisted the Gators needed to diversify their offense to beat LSU and have a shot at repeating as national champions —and that was before Florida's 20-17 loss at Auburn. Because the Gators couldn't possibly go into Death Valley with a one-punch offense and conquer LSU's ferocious defense, could they?
Turns out they couldn't, but they nearly did it with Tebow in charge. He made plays when there seemed to be none, ran for yards that didn't look to be there and made big plays against a defense that rarely yields them.
All that eventually wasn't enough, but it was a lot for a young quarterback leading his young team.
It was a lot to ask for Florida to win this game with this team, even with Tebow. A sophomore first-year starter at quarterback doesn't come into this place in a game this big and beat a team this good, but it looked possible for three-plus quarters because Tebow is an extraordinary player with poise to match his freakish physical skills.
Tebow was the catalyst, improvising on the fly while running the ball, throwing it and running before throwing it. Consider the second-quarter touchdown drive that gave Florida a 10-0 lead, the one that emphatically told the Tigers they were in for a game.
Tebow set it up with a sizzling 27-yard pass to Percy Harvin on a slant route to the 2. Then, on second down, Tebow rolled to his left and looked ready to run but, at the last instant, dumped a pass to Kestahn Moore for a touchdown.
What can you do with that if you are the Tigers? Here is a improbably big, astoundingly athletic quarterback threatening to plow into the end zone, and when you cut off that option, he flips a little pass for a score anyway.
Tebow was a threat to run, as usual, but he made enough plays passing to keep LSU honest. And so the Tigers were busy chasing Florida's fleet of fast receivers and backs when Tebow scooted 9 yards untouched for a touchdown and a 17-7 Gators lead.
That one quieted LSU fans in an atmosphere that was electric as always. Probably they couldn't believe that one man was winning a football game, if such a thing is possible, and Tebow was doing it under tough circumstances.
There was that loss to Auburn that put Florida's title defense in serious jeopardy. There was the felony burglary charge against safety Tony Joiner, and fallout from criticism of the seemingly rushed effort by prosecutors to get the charges dropped so he could play.
And, most of all, there was a talented LSU team, the newly anointed No. 1 in the AP poll. The Tigers were on a 12-game winning streak since losing 23-10 at Florida on Oct. 6, 2006.
The crowd of 92,910 erupted into ear-splitting cheers when an LSU touchdown that cut Florida's lead to 17-14 was followed by the announcement of USC's 24-23 loss to Stanford.
The Gators could have melted in such a spot, and everyone would have attributed it to a young team not ready for a game like this, but Tebow didn't let it happen, leading them to another touchdown.
That wasn't enough to keep alive Florida's title defense, but once the pain of this loss subsides it should provide plenty for the Gators to feel good about in 2008.
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