Tebow, Gators throttle ’Noles
Bowden left reeling by 5-TD performance
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Tim Tebow’s final home game went about like everyone expected.
There were tears, touchdowns, and another thumping.
Tebow threw for three TDs and ran for two scores as top-ranked Florida beat Florida State, 37-10, yesterday for its sixth consecutive victory in the heated rivalry.
The Gators improved to 12-0 for just the second time in school history and extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 22 games heading into next week’s Southeastern Conference showdown against No. 2 Alabama.
Tebow may have even secured a third consecutive trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation.
The Seminoles (6-6) lost for the second time in six games, and longtime coach Bobby Bowden’s likely finale at Florida Field showed exactly why some FSU faithful are urging him to retire: the Gators outplayed the Seminoles at every position.
Florida rolled up 151 yards in the first quarter to the Seminoles’ 15. Florida’s dominance was so staggering that coach Urban Meyer had his team take a knee to run out the final minute of the first half despite having three timeouts available.
“It was a pretty good whipping,’’ Bowden said.
Tebow was the biggest difference, hardly a surprise since he torched the ’Noles the last two years. Tebow completed 17 of 21 passes for 221 yards. He also ran 15 times for 90 yards against a defense that has been among the worst of any Florida State team under Bowden.
Florida’s first four touchdowns came on plays where the ball carrier didn’t even get touched. Aaron Hernandez took a shovel pass on an option play - Florida State looked like it had never even seen the play, which is one of Florida’s favorites - and went 18 yards.
Tebow’s first scoring run came on another option play, and he scored without a single defender in his path. Hernandez weaved his way untouched through five defenders for a 37-yard reception. And Cooper beat Patrick Robinson for 39-yard reception with no resistance.
Hernandez finished with five catches for 83 yards. Cooper caught three passes for 62 yards.
This one could have been even worse than the 45-12 drubbing in 2007 and the 45-15 beatdown last year. But Meyer pulled many of his defensive starters late in the third quarter.
The Seminoles trailed, 30-0, before Bowden opted for a field goal on fourth and goal from the 2 on the final play of the third. They added a touchdown with 6:03 to play to make it 37-10.
It was the team’s only cause for celebration on a day that belonged to Tebow, linebacker Brandon Spikes, and their fellow seniors, who have more wins (47) than any other class in SEC history. They also improved to 12-1 against their four traditional rivals - Tennessee (4-0), Georgia (3-1), Florida State (4-0), and Miami (1-0).
The revelry started with Tebow making his final walk into The Swamp amid 90,000-plus fans screaming his name. Tebow and Meyer embraced at the 30-yard line as tears flowed down Tebow’s cheeks. Spikes kissed the ground as he was introduced. Receiver Riley Cooper was wearing eye black - like many of those in attendance.
Fans wanted to pay tribute to Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, by wearing his famed eye black. Meyer’s wife and two daughters also donned the little oval patches.
By the time Tebow scored his final TD, The Swamp was lit up by camera flashes trying to capture his every move.
It was Tebow’s best performance of the season. He had two TD passes to Hernandez and another to Cooper. He scored on an 18-yard run in the second, then added the 56th rushing TD of his career early in the fourth. He left the game to a long, standing ovation after the first play of Florida’s next possession.
When it was over, Tebow jogged to midfield to shake hands with Seminoles defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews and Bowden.
Afterward, Bowden says he wants to reflect before making a decision about coaching in 2010.
“I want to coach next year, but let me say I want to go home and do some soul-searching,’’ Bowden said. “I’ve got to run this thing through my mind a few times.’’
Bowden, 80, has frequently said he wants to return next year, but a third straight one-sided loss to the Gators clearly left the coach in no mood to say he’d definitely be back for a 35th season at Florida State.
Florida State offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher is slated to take over in January 2011 unless Bowden decides to retire or university officials don’t renew his rolling one-year contract.
Fisher is guaranteed $5 million if for any reason he’s not the head coach by January 2011.