Stopping Superman

Tim Tebow is the driver behind the wheel of Florida's offensive machine and as the Gator signal caller goes so does Urban Meyer's offense. Well, that is at least what most think about Florida's spread attack but unlike last year, Superman, as he is often referred to by Florida fans, is getting some help in 2008.

Anyone who follows college football closely, and who hasn’t been in a cave for the past 10 months, knows all about Tebow winning the Heisman trophy last year and becoming the first sophomore in NCAA history to accomplish that feat.


The junior from Jacksonville, Fla. accounted for an SEC record 55 touchdowns last season with 32 by way of the pass and he ran for another 23. He set record after record in his first full season as a starter in Meyer’s offense and early on he gave Florida fans a glimpse of what to expect last season.


Tebow set the world on fire in his first five games of the 2007 campaign leading the Gators to a 4-1 start heading into a showdown with LSU.


Through five outings he completed 70 percent of his passes, threw for 1,297 yards, and tossed 11 touchdown passes with only two interceptions.


Tebow was just as effective when he took off running, gaining 433 yards and rushing for eight scores.


At that point in the season, Tebow was responsible for 73 percent of Florida’s total offense.


Fast forward to 2008 and there are some resemblances as the Gators are once again off to a 4-1 start heading into another colossal showdown with LSU, but Superman looks a lot more human than he did a year ago.


In fact, all of Tebow’s numbers have declined but make no mistake about it his passing stats are still what some dream of.


In the first five contests, Tebow is completing 61.8 percent of his passes and he has thrown for 1,025 yards. His touchdown to interception ratio is still outstanding with eight scores and only one pick.


Meyer is not running his big quarterback as much as he did in the past so the rushing numbers are expected to be down but they’ve gone a little farther South than Meyer had hoped.


Tebow has carried the ball 28 fewer times this season but with only 157 yards and two touchdowns that is 276 fewer yards and six fewer scores from last year relative to the same number of games played.


Of course, he has been sacked five more times in 2008 which is a direct result of Florida’s young and beat up offensive line. But Meyer seems to be taking a different approach with Tebow by letting him take fewer hits and spreading the ball around to his playmakers.


Tebow is still responsible for 34 percent of Florida’s rushing attempts but that is down from 44 percent in 2007, and overall offensive output from guys other than No. 15 is up to 39 percent which is a 12 percent increase from last year.


The running game has not been as productive this season and some of that is due to Tebow not having his number called as frequently, but there is more blame to go around.


The Gators continue to struggle at finding a go-to back and the leading rusher on the team is Percy Harvin at 44.2 yards a game followed by Chris Rainey at 44 and then Jeffrey Demps at 35.6.


Some have criticized Tebow for not matching the production from last season and have even said he is struggling, but LSU head coach Les Miles sees things in a different light.


“I have to be real honest with you. What are struggles to him don’t seem to be struggles to me,” Miles said. “He plays pretty darn well and plays well in key situations for them. I think that, like anything, when things don’t go well, there has to be somebody to take the blame, and certainly, the quarterback gets his undue share.”


The Gator offense may be averaging 86 fewer yards this season but Miles sees a unit that has more weapons at its disposal.


“You can’t just attack Tim Tebow,” said Miles. “You have to attack a very talented running attack, a very talented receiving corps and an offense that employs the weapon of a running quarterback, so it’s more than Tim Tebow.”


While there may be more to Florida’s offense than just Tim Tebow it all starts with the talented signal caller.


And the chore for an LSU defense that has forced only three turnovers and registered six sacks on the season will be to stop the guy wearing the cape when he gets the ball in his hands.


“You can’t rush Tebow the way you rush everyone else,” said LSU defensive end Kirston Pittman. “He’s already five yards in the backfield and he may take only one step back, and the way the offensive line protects him by really forming a pocket around him helps him. If you get too far up the field then you leave some gaps and holes for him to take off and run the ball so you really have to be gap sound.”


A method that some teams have used on Tebow in the past is to have a defender serve as a spy and key on the quarterback at all times.


Regardless of what LSU does though the Tigers will have to play smart, but yet be aggressive, if they are to leave the Swamp with a “W”.


They will have to play their assignments, be on their toes, and, of course, keep an eye on the Gators’ superhero.


“I think it’s all of the different formations the offense gives you,” said middle linebacker Darry Beckwith. “They give you a lot of formations so we really have to be on our P’s and Q’s on what formation they’re in. If you’re not then he (Tebow) can really hurt you.”

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