The Bulldog coaches, defensive linemen, linebackers and safeties will know what’s coming – a 230-pound quarterback straight ahead with the football.
And, if history is any guide, Georgia won’t be able to stop it. Tennessee knew and it couldn’t; LSU knew and it couldn’t; even Auburn, which beat the Gators, knew and it couldn’t. Tebow, who is No. 9 Florida’s second-leading rusher, has only lost 6 yards on his 44 carries, a phenomenal number for a quarterback.
So why, if everyone in the stadium knows what’s coming 75 percent of the time (Tebow has attempted 14 passes), can’t anybody seem to stop the play for less than a 5-yard gain? Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, a true freshman like Tebow, has wondered the same thing.
“I do wonder, but he’s a beast,” said Stafford, who met Tebow last year at the Elite 11 quarterback camp. “He’s a big guy; he’s fast; he’s a good athlete.”
Tebow is averaging 5.6 yards per carry, more than starting Gator tailback DeShawn Wynn (5.3). He has 246 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns this year, along with 152 yards and two touchdowns on 10-of-14 passing, and he’ll be making a homecoming when the Bulldogs (6-2, 3-2 SEC) take on the Gators (6-1, 4-1) in Jacksonville, Fla.
Tebow threw for 9,940 yards and rushed for another 3,169 as a three-year starter at Jacksonville’s Nease High School.
“He’s one of the toughest human beings I’ve ever been around,” Florida coach Urban Meyer said. “He’s also probably the best runner we’ve got right now. He’s always falling forward. The great runners I’ve been fortunate to be around are plus-yardage players.”
Bulldog cornerback Bryan Evans -- like Tebow, a native of Jacksonville – has known Tebow for more than a decade, since they were regular competitors in the same Pop Warner league. Running always has been the key ingredient in Tebow’s game, Evans said.
“If he sees a lick, he’s not going to slide, he goes for you,” he said. “Whenever we have a chance to get a shot on him, we have to get that shot.”
Tebow has averaged nine plays per SEC game this season. His high came against LSU (14); his low, inexplicably, came against Auburn last week (four). Meyer has promised to play Tebow more this week, which could be bad news for the Bulldogs.
“I think the most impressive thing is the kid himself,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “The role he’s playing is exciting to him, and he’s excited to help the team win. Some guys might say my redshirt year was used to run a handful of red zone plays. Some guys might not think that is worth losing the entire season, but he seems to think it’s awesome.”
The key to Tebow’s rushing success is the threat, however slight, of the pass, Gator offensive coordinator Dan Mullen said.
“I think what really makes it all work, when he fakes the run, steps back and you have a big pass play for a touchdown,” Mullen said. “Those are huge plays. Defensively, that’s what people are going to say, ‘We think he’s going to run, but we better make sure we’re covering this pass because we can’t leave receivers open.’”
Making the quarterback a runner also provides one more blocker for the offense, which causes problems against defenses not equipped for that, Richt said. The final ingredient is Tebow himself.
“He’s got good speed, and he’s got very good power, and he’s awfully fresh coming off the bench, too,” Richt said. “He’s a pretty special cat right now.”
Even when teams have the play sniffed out perfectly, Tebow usually pushes the pile in the Gators’ direction, regardless of if the pile contains cornerbacks or defensive linemen. Georgia defensive end Charles Johnson doesn’t even want to think about returning to the defensive huddle after being run over by a quarterback.
“You’d get a lot of grief, but when you have a 230-pound quarterback, it’s just like a running back,” he said. “He’s been doing it against all the defenses that are the best in the league. You just have to prepare harder and see if we can do it better than anybody else did.”
Florida by the numbers
Rushing 43rd 157.7 ypg
Rushing defense 5th 67.7 ypg allowed
Passing 30th 236.4 ypg
Passing defense 68th 199.9 ypg allowed
Scoring 38th 27.3 ppg
Scoring defense 5th 12 ppg allowed