The true freshman from Missouri is quick enough to run like the best option quarterbacks in the country, and he throws well enough to simulate most pure passers. But this is not any week for the No. 20 Bulldogs.
This is Tim Tebow week. Folks around Georgia are used to referring to this as Florida week, but, make no mistake, sophomore quarterback Tim Tebow is the Gators.
Tebow leads the nation in passing efficiency while at the same time leading his team in rushing, and his rushing yards don’t come on anything tricky. The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder simply runs over people, which is why the 185-pound Gray doesn’t serve as a suitable substitute.
“We probably need to find some linebacker who might have played some quarterback back in his day or a fullback,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. “It would take two guys really to simulate Tebow. There aren’t many Tebows in the country. I can only think of one right now.”
Tebow accounts for 73 percent of Florida’s offense. He has completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,711 yards and 17 touchdowns (while throwing just three interceptions), and he has 578 rushing yards on 125 carries. Those numbers make him the third-leading passer (244.4 yards per game) and ninth-leading rusher (82.6 yards per game) in the SEC.
“He’s a freak of nature, really,” Richt said. “You’ve seen quarterbacks who can run before but not run with that kind of power and toughness, and he’s not thrown it pretty good, he’s really thrown it great.”
Tebow’s ability to pass was the only question coming off a freshman season in which he relieved starter Chris Leak and helped the Gators win a national championship by tying the school’s single-season scoring record for a quarterback.
“I was confident in my passing ability,” Tebow said. “Last year as a freshman I was just trying to follow through with my role. It just didn’t call for me to throw a lot.”
The Jacksonville native will be making his first start in a game he and his family saw “six or seven” times when he was growing up. Tebow was home-schooled but played football for Nease High School just outside the traditional home of the Georgia-Florida game.
Georgia (5-2, 3-2) takes the Gators (5-2, 3-2) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. (The game will be televised by CBS.)
“I don’t know that any one game stands out,” Tebow said. “I think it was just the memory of the game overall, how exciting it is.”
Tebow, who is fourth nationally in total offense, has quietly moved into the Heisman Trophy race as preseason contenders like Arkansas running back Darren McFadden and Southern Cal quarterback John David Booty have faltered.
“I get asked about it some,” he said. “I try not to think about it too much. I don’t try to let it change the way I play. I just worry about winning games and getting us to Atlanta (for the SEC championship game) more so than New York (for the Heisman Trophy ceremony), but if it does go hand-in-hand, that would be great.”
Tebow attracts enough national attention to be considered a serious contender for the trophy because he plays the quarterback position like few players have in the last 50 years.
“He’s a big, strong guy, and (defenders) are just bouncing off him like BBs,” Georgia defensive line coach Rodney Garner said. “If it’s third-and-two, he’s getting the ball, and nine times out of 10, he’s getting the first down.”
Tebow is averaging 17.9 carries per game, more than all but three tailbacks in the SEC. He had a season-high 27 carries against Ole Miss and said, “it felt like 10 to me.”
Tebow will play this week with a bruised right, non-throwing shoulder suffered last week against Kentucky, but he doesn’t think about injury while he’s playing, he said.
“I don’t think you can worry about it or think, ‘I’m taking too many hits,’” he said. “When you play like that, you have a much greater chance of getting hurt or getting injured and not going out there and playing like you normally play. I’m just trying to get first downs and put points on the board, that’s it.”
The Gators try not to call more than 10 direct run plays for Tebow, head coach Urban Meyer said.
“A lot of (the runs) are him making a play,” Meyer said.
Tebow’s 125 carries are 36 more than he had last year but he doesn’t feel like he’s slowing down as the season heads into its final stretch, he said.
“My body doesn’t feel too banged up,” he said. “My body feels good and feels refreshed. I feel good and feel ready to go against Georgia.”
That’s not good news for the Bulldogs.