GAINESVILLE, Fla. - When you are playing the No. 1 team in the country on the road, just about everything has to go right for the visiting team to pull out a win.
It would help if home team didn't have Tim Tebow as its quarterback as well.
Tebow added to his legend by leading the University of Florida to the last 10 points of the game to stave off the University of Arkansas' upset bid 23-20 Saturday afternoon before 90,508 fans at The Swamp.
"It was a tough loss," Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said. "We did a great job on the seperation - we practiced that all week. We've grown a lot of confidence in ourselves, in each other and what we are trying to do. It's hard coming up just a little short, but we competed hard and gave it everything we had."
Caleb Sturgis' 28-yard field goal with 9 seconds left in the game proved be the difference between the top-ranked Gators(6-0, 3-0) and the unranked and 25-point underdog Razorbacks (3-3, 1-3).
It was the 16th straight win for Florida.
"That was a great, tough win," Florida head coach Urban Meyer said. "First off, I have a lot of respect for the team that we played. I kind of knew it would be a tough one and I also got the feeling that our players were fairly confident headed into it.
"But in most cases, if you turn the ball over four times, you usually don't win that kind of game," Meyer continued. "This team did a good job. Again I have a lot of respect for our opponent because it was a tough, tough game. I think our players showed a lot of character by coming back at the end of the game."
It was a far cry from Arkansas' 35-7 loss at Alabama a month ago when Petrino said his team didn't go in thinking positive enough to win.
"Our players were very convinced that we could come down here and win this game," Petrino said. "We faced our problems before the Alabama game. We talked all week about having confidence, believing in each other and believing in what we're doing. We did that and we grew up."
Tebow - 17 of 26 passing for 255 yards and who ran for 69 yards while getting sacked six times - a whopping six times - watched his team fall behind 20-13 when Ryan Mallett connected with Greg Childs on a 75-yard TD pass with just 9:40 left in the game.
"It was an opportunity where we could have folded, started bickering amongst ourselves or left down, but we didn't," Tebow said. "We believe in each other. We're going to go to war for each other for four quarters. That's what we did. We believed in each other the whole game."
He led his team on a 6-play, 65 yard scoring drive in just a little over 2 minutes - a a jaunt culminated when Jeff Demps raced in from 10 yards out and Sturgis added the PAT for a 20-20 tie.
Arkansas drove right back down the field against the nation's top-ranked defense and had a chance to take the lead when Alex Tejada lined up for a 38-yard field goal with 3:08 left in the contest.
However, Tejada - who was 2-of-4 on the day after having been a perfect 7-of-7 on his boots this season - missed wide left.
That allowed Tebow to lead his offense down the field to get the Gators' unbeaten season and hopes for a repeat national championship alive - despite it being a day when they had 3 turnovers and did not force any from the Razorbacks and missed a field goal as well.
"We just demonstrated heart, offensively, defensively and on special teams," Tebow said. "We had to just keep playing and grind it out. We believed in ourselves and we knew we had more heart and were going to keep fighting and have a chance to win the game."
The field goal by Sturgis - who has only been the kicker for four games - was straight and true.
"It has been a dream come true to play for the Florida Gators," Sturgis said. "To be in that situation was nice. I knew the line was going to hold everybody back, the snap was going to be perfect and I didn't have much to worry about.
Mallett gave Florida its just due, but knows that his team missed a shot to take down the top-ranked team in the country.
"They're a great team, but we just beat ourselves," Mallett said. "They are a great defensive team, but they had to play our offense. We're probably the best offensive team they've faced and will face for the rest of the season."
Jake Bequette and the rest of the defensive line certainly played well with the six sacks - two of which were by true freshman D.D. Jones."
"It hurt," Bequette said. "We were right there with the number one team in the country. We came into a great environment and we rose to the challenge. They are all winnable."
Mallett was 12-of-27 for 224 yards with one touchdown while Dennis Johnson filled in for injured starter Michael Smith and rushed 14 times for 107 yards with Broderick Green adding 40 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.
Smith, who had 145 yards rushing against Auburn last week, dressed out and went through pre-game warm-ups before a season was made to hold him out.
"Michael really wanted to come out and play in the game," Petrino said. "We did everything we could to get him ready, but he wasn't 100 percent. It wouldn't have been fair to him or the football team to put him out there on the field. Dennis knew pretty much all we week that he was going to get to play. He did a great job running with the football."
Childs had 4 catches for 135 yards to head up a receiving corp that was missing Joe Adams.
Demps rushed 9 times for 54 yard for Florida while junior tight end Aaron Hernandez had 7 catches for 92 yards, wideout Riley Cooper 6 catches for 58 yards and Deonte Thompson a 77-yard TD catch that gave his team a 13-10 lead in the third quarter - its only lead of the game until the game-winning field goal.
Although that play was the longest pass of Tebow's career, he spent the time getting hit - with two of his teams's four fumbles and getting sacked the six times.
He actually gained 114 yards rushing, but lost 45 on the sack for the net of 69. His longest run of the day was 16 yards.
"I think our defense did really well," Petrino said. "Obviously Tebow is a threat, but he doesn't go 60 or 70 yards for a touchdown. That was our plan going in. Our guys ran really hard to the ball and that's why the fumbled - because we played hard and tackled."
Petrino also lauded the play of his offense.
"I thought we would execute well today, and we did," Petrino said. "We had the chance to execute and score a touchdown, but we just didn't get it done. They have a great defense, there's no question about it. We had a chance to win in the first quarter, so we just have to work hard the second half of this season."
Playing by far its best half of the season against a quality foe, the Arkansas defense kept its team in the game until its offense put up some points.
That came after Jake Bequette hit Tebow and forced a fumble that Zach Stadther jumped on at the Florida 31.
"We had to put a lot of pressure on him early," Bequette said.
It took 9 plays to punch it in – although it looked like Green had raced in from 15 yards out on the third play of the possession.
But holding was called and Arkansas eventually converted a fourth down by the smallest of margins on a Mallett quarterback sneak.
Green finally did cash in on a 1-yard run with on the first play of the second quarter.
Tejada's PAT pushed the Razorbacks ahead 7-0 with 14:57 left before halftime.
Florida drove inside the Arkansas 10 on three straight possessions, but fumbled away the ball on the first two.
Tebow was charged with one of those fumbles, Hernadez another before Sturgis' 30-yard field goal finally got them on the board with 1:40 on the clock.
That left Arkansas enough time to match that field goal – especially after Mallett hooked up with Childs on a 46-yard bomb on the first play of the drive.
The Razorbacks took some shots at the end zone before settling for Tejada's 22-yard field goal that sent his team to the locker room with a 10-3 lead.
The Florida coach was stunned that his team had lost three fumbles by halftime.
"Tim had one knocked out of his hand," Meyer said. "We were soft in the pocket, but we can fix that. Aaron Hernandez on the shovel play and Chris Rainey, those were just ball security. for the last few years, we have been as good as any team in America on turnover ratio. Chris made a great run and somebody kicked the ball out of his hands."
Meyer said it was not halftime speech where there was yelling.
"You holler at immature teams that are making mistakes because that is what they do," Meyer said. "You don't holler at them, you coach.
"I don't know if we called or executed a great game in the first half," Meyer continued. "I thought Tim threw the ball well. Riley Cooper had a hip pointer and battled through it. I didn't yell. We just talked about we had the ball three times in the redzone and walked away without anything. So no, I didn't yell at them. I was just matter of fact.
Florida scored on its first possession of the second half, but had to settle for Sturgis' 51-yard field goal after Jones sacked Tebow for the second time.
Florida later took a 13-10 lead by kicking a field goal on its first possession of the third quarter and then hitting its first big play of the day later in the quarter.
That occurred when the Gators caught Arkansas in a corner blitz and Tebow hit Thompson for what turned into a 77-yard TD hook-up.
Arkansas did answer right back with a Dennis Johnson powered drive.
Johnson returned the kickoff to the 41 and then ripped off runs of 25 – in which he ran over four tacklers – and 18.
Mallett missed an open Van Stumon for what would have been a touchdown, but Alex Tejada's 31-yard field goal tied it 13-13 with 7 seconds left in the third quarter.
"The defense played great and the offensive line played great," Mallett said. "Myself and the receivers, we've got some work to do. Everyone played their best. We just had to execute and run with it."
Execute is exactly what Mallett did on the pass to Childs, stepping up in the pocket and firing a laser to the wideout, who had the ball knocked out of his arms at the 1 yard line but fell on it in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.
Arkansas will return to action next Saturday when it plays Ole Miss at 11:21 a.m. in Oxford.
Broderick Green drives toward the goal line.
Greg Childs approaches the end zone at the end of a 75-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Mallett. Florida forced a Childs fumble at the 1, but he jumped on it in the back of the end zone for the score.
No. 1 Florida 23, Arkansas 20
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