Tebow's tough on Tennessee

In Florida's first key game of last season, coach Urban Meyer had a veteran quarterback who would eventually become the SEC's all-time leading passer.

But in a clutch situation down the stretch at Tennessee, Meyer didn't turn to Chris Leak. He turned to an unproven true freshman named Tim Tebow.

On fourth-and-1, Tebow lined up in the shotgun, took a direct snap and powered his way for a first down. He did it again on third-and-short -- and again.

Tennessee couldn't stop Tebow, a bruising 235-pounder with a middle linebacker mentality. Tebow helped the Gators rally from a 10-point second half deficit to score a much-needed victory. Had Florida lost, there's no way the Gators would have won the national championship.

It was a defining moment in Florida's season.

It was a defining moment in Tebow's young career.

``It was definitely great for my confidence,'' Tebow said Monday. ``It was special for them to have trust in me on such a crucial play in the game. That was definitely big and I'm thankful for them putting responsibility and trust in me.''

What was going through Tebow's mind on that fourth-and-1?

``I was just worried about the first down,'' he said. ``There were 110,000 people going crazy. To go in and get the first down was pretty special. I was happy to help the team win the game, pumped and excited.''

This is Tebow's team now. Meyer said Tebow thought it was his team a year ago. This time, there is no dispute.

Tebow won the respect of his teammates with his gothic bench-pressing achievements for a quarterback, a quarterback who played nose tackle in the state playoffs when his team needed a run stopper.

He won admiration for delivering at crunch time.

Tebow was primarily a runner last year. He carried 89 times for 469 yards – second on the team – for eight touchdowns, the most on the ground by a Gator. He only attempted 33 passes, completing 22 for 358 yards and five scores.

His infrequent passing led many to question whether he could pass.

``I wasn't worried about what people were saying,'' Tebow said.

After all, he put up gaudy numbers as a high school quarterback.

Still, Florida coaches wanted to work on his delivery. They wanted a quicker release and a more catchable ball.

``I'd been a pitcher growing up most of my life,'' Tebow said. ``I had a little bit of a windup before I released it. I had to quicken it to get it out as fast as possible. We had a motion analysis (done). I tweaked it a little bit.''

The results after two games have been spectacular, although it is fair to question the competition. Tebow has completed 74 percent of his passes thus far.

``We didn't set a goal for a completion percentage,'' Tebow said. ``But we'd like it to be about that number. Above 70 percent is where we'd like to be. We can definitely raise that.''

Meanwhile, Tebow is taking fewer hits as a scrambler. Last season, he tried to run over everybody. This year, he's veering out of bounds to limit the number of blows.

``It hasn't been too bad so far,'' Tebow said. ``I'd say probably 70-80 percent of the carries I've been able to get out of bounds and not get hit. It's something they want me to do. I'm just trying to be smart.''

Isn't it against his nature to run out of bounds instead of over a defender?

``Yes,'' he admitted. ``I'm a pretty competitive player. I want to get as many yards as I can but I have to be smart. You can't always do what you want to do. You've got to make wise decisions.''

Tebow said he has a lot of respect for Tennessee's defense.

``Just like every year, they've got athletes inside and out,'' Tebow said. ``They hustle to the ball. They're super athletic. They've been well coached. They're a big, physical, fast defense and that always gives you some problems.''

Last year, in his coming-out party, it was Tebow who gave UT problems.


Tennessee has had trouble converting on several third-and-short plays thus far, and offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe said huddling might help.

``We've had some miscommunications on short-yardage,'' Cutcliffe said.

Huddling, he hopes, will eliminate the miscommunication.

EXTRA POINTS: UT set a record for concessions sales at the USM game with over $600,000. Some 50,000 bottles of water were sold on the hot day. Some customers felt the record was broken because of increased prices for drinks and popcorn and other food items. … After missing 22 tackles against California, the UT defense missed six or seven against USM. … Against the Eagles, UT's defense allowed five first-half plays totaling 175 yards. In the second half, USM had just two plays of over 10 yards. … In the first quarter of two games, quarterback Erik Ainge has completed 17 of 21 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 192.78. … UT had 17 offensive plays of at least 10 yards in the USM game. … Florida receiver Andre Caldwell (torn MCL) will not play against UT. He broke a leg against the Vols in 2005. … UT has two of the last three games played in Gainesville.

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