Saturday, December 6, 2008

Florida 31, Alabama 20

I don't know if Tim Tebow is going to win the Heisman this year. I don't know if, strictly speaking, he deserves. Graham Harrell, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy are extraordinary quarterbacks, and if you want to say that any of them should win the award this year, I won't argue.

But there is no one on Earth I'd rather have quarterbacking my alma mater.

All the hype, all the fawning adulation Gator fans were accused of showering on Tebow, it was justified. All of it. If there was any doubt of that before tonight, if a Heisman Trophy and otherworldly numbers and a laudable personal life were not enough to convince you, Tebow made skepticism untenable with his performance. Florida won the SEC Championship and almost certainly earned another berth in a national championship game because of Tebow.

He had help, of course. Jeff Demps didn't do anything spectacular, but the diminutive true freshman carried the load as Florida's primary running back. Riley Cooper caught two huge passes, including the game clinching touchdown. Aaron Hernandez took a shovel pass and rumbled for a crucial first down and also climbed the ladder to make a wonderful catch. And senior Louis Murphy played brilliantly in his final conference game.

But this was Tebow's night. Much was made about the lack of a fourth quarter comeback on Tebow's resume; he had never won a game when Florida trailed at any point in the fourth quarter. Well, the Gators entered the fourth quarter trailing 20-17, thanks to a dominating and demoralizing performance by Alabama in the third quarter. The Tide started the second half down 17-10, but rolled up and down the field on UF's depleted defensive line, keeping Tebow and UF's offense off the field. Alabama running back Glen Coffee rolled through the massive holes his offensive line opened, and the Gators could not cover freshman phenom Julio Jones.

And with his arm and with his legs Tebow hauled Florida to a championship. Percy Harvin didn't set foot on the field, and UF's offense definitely suffered for it. As mentioned, Demps couldn't find much running room. Chris Rainey was surprisingly absent from the game plan, carrying the ball only once. Brandon James was ineffective. Even Louis Murphy carried the ball for the first time all year. It was on Tebow to perform magic; he carried the ball 17 times and completed 14 passes in 22 attempts for 216 yards and three touchdowns.

With 14:42 left in the game, Florida took over at its own 38. 11 plays (nine rushes) and 5:47 later, Tebow pitched to Demps on the option for a short touchdown. The Gators took a 24-20 lead and Alabama would get the ball back with 9:21 to go.

It was then that Florida's defensive line, ravaged by injuries and pushed all game by Alabama's o-line, rose to the challenge and finally grabbed the sputtering torch left by the dominant 2006 defense. On 3rd and 8, Jermaine Cunningham sacked Alabama QB John Parker-Wilson for a loss of 11 yards. The Tide punted.

Alabama's defense, 70,000 people in the Georgia Dome and everyone watching at home waited for Florida to grind out a long drive with just 7:27 left in the game. Instead, after gaining a first down on the ground, offensive coordinator Dan Mullen put the ball in the air. Tebow connected with Murphy on a beautiful 33-yard fade route down the right sideline. On the next play, Tebow rifled a pass high to Hernandez, who made the biggest catch of his life in leaping high in the Georgia sky and reeling in the throw for 15 yards.

Tebow carved his legacy into granite in the plays that followed. He gained five yards on first and goal from the Alabama six, but a sideline infraction pushed Florida back five yards. Demps was stuffed on 2nd and goal.

But on 3rd and goal, Tebow hit his roommate Cooper on a perfectly thrown slant pattern in the endzone. Alabama had some time left, but Joe Haden intercepted Parker-Wilson on a desperation throw on the next drive.

Tim Tebow was the star tonight, but I have to give myself some props as well. Before the Florida basketball team's 2006 National Championship Game against UCLA, I raced do a university convenience store and bought a one pound value bag of Rold Gold pretzels. A year later, I bought the same pretzels at the Macclenny Super Wal-Mart.

I broke out the Gator Good Luck Pretzels again tonight. And again, they came through. You better believe I'm buying a back before the national championship game, assuming the Gators reach that point.

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