Tebow, Florida’s all-everything quarterback, is now a senior, and Saturday offers the Bulldogs a final opportunity to try and stop him.
“That’s our main thing,” Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran said. “We all know how much he’s respected, the reputation he’s built for himself and Florida. If you want to stop Florida’s offense, you’ve got to stop it from the head, with their leader, and that’s Tebow. That’s our main thing. We’ve got to get that guy to flinch.”
After a concussion earlier this season and two lost fumbles against Arkansas, making Tebow flinch may be a little easier than in years past. But he’s still running the ball as much as ever (27 carries against the Razorbacks), and even more has been placed on him this season with the departure of versatile wide receiver Percy Harvin.
Tebow and the Gators took on Mississippi State in Starkville on Saturday as the Bulldogs watched, rested and got ready for their final test against the only player in history to win the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore.
“Beating Tim Tebow would be nice,” defensive lineman Geno Atkins said. “We definitely look at it as a challenge. He is Mr. Football in the college area. So it’s big for us.”
The obvious running threat aside, one of the keys to beating Tebow will be stopping Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound junior tight end, is Florida’s leading receiver and Tebow’s main target, something that may not bode well for Georgia.
Opposing tight ends have had a field day against the Bulldogs at times this season. In Georgia’s 41-37 win over South Carolina, Gamecocks tight ends Weslye Saunders and Tori Gurley combined for 12 catches, 142 receiving yards and a touchdown. Just last week against Vanderbilt, Commodore tight end Brandon Barden was his team’s leading receiver, with five catches for 49 yards and a score.
“You’ve got to play good in coverage, play good assignment football,” Curran said. ”Whoever has the tight end has to be on him and be disciplined because they will use him in a lot of ways. Everyone knows that’s one of Tebow’s favorite targets. ... We’ve just got to do a good job of shutting him down.”
In the Gators’ 49-10 romp over Georgia last season, the big-bodied Tebow accounted for five touchdowns, rushing for three and throwing for two more.
But in the 2008 game, the Bulldogs sacked him six times, holding him to minus-15 rushing yards and 236 yards through the air in his first matchup with Georgia as a full-time starter.
Needless to say, in its final shot at Tebow, the Georgia defense is looking to come full circle with a performance more like that one.
“If I can get a nose-to-nose shot, it will be nasty,” defensive tackle Jeff Owens said. “He’s a quarterback. He’ll try and run over the (defensive backs) and probably linebackers, but linemen? He ain’t going to do that to any defensive linemen.”
The Gators are the defending national champions and were ranked No. 1 in the first BCS rankings of the season last week.
The Bulldogs are reeling and mired in a 4-3 season, but they are coming off an encouraging win over Vanderbilt. The score from last year’s Florida game and two last-minute timeouts called by head coach Urban Meyer are still ringing in their ears.
Motivation is never short in a series that Florida has dominated during the past 19 seasons. But with nothing to lose and that one last matchup with Tebow, who before Saturday’s game with the conference’s other Bulldogs was one rushing touchdown shy of Herschel Walker’s SEC record, Georgia may have a little something extra this week.
“He’s a great player, and if we can go out on top, shutting out a Heisman candidate (and winner), what better way can a senior go out against Florida?” senior safety Bryan Evans said.