Tebow, Florida leave LSU dazed

Published 1:40 am Sunday, October 11, 2009

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Tim Tebow arrived at raucous Death Valley ready to play. Then No. 1 Florida’s defense left No. 4 LSU in a daze.

Two weeks after suffering a concussion, Tebow — with plenty of help from the Gators’ swarming defense — silenced the largest crowd in the history of Tiger Stadium with a 13-3 victory Saturday night.

The day began with Tebow’s status uncertain for what looked like the defending national champions’ toughest regular-season test.

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By the time it was over, Tebow had thrown a touchdown pass and Brandon Spikes had led a Florida defense that sacked Jordan Jefferson five times.

‘‘I’m feeling great,’’ Tebow said. ‘‘The doctors did a great job. I just want to thank them for the work they put in on me the last two weeks, our trainers, and then all the fans that were praying for me.’’

Most of the 93,129 fans who partied all day and roared like a jet engine after kickoff were heading for the exits with 2 1/2 minutes left, quiet and dejected.

Florida (5-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) has won 15 straight games, the best in the nation. LSU (5-1, 3-1) had its 32-game winning streak in Saturday night home games snapped.

Tebow completed 11 of 16 passes for 134 yards with an interception, and ran for 38 yards on 17 carries. Far from his best game, but more than good enough.

After a conservative start, he bounced off tacklers, scrambled away from pass rushers and generally looked like the guy Florida fans have grown to adore and SEC defenses have not quite figured out how to stop.

‘‘On offense, we didn’t execute the best but we played really hard,’’ Tebow said.

When he was done beating the Tigers, several of them waited around for him to finish an interview so they could shake his hand at midfield.

The LSU offense looked all too familiar as well. The Tigers came in ranked last in the SEC in total offense and managed only 162 yards. They never even threatened to score in the second half.

The Tebow mystery — would he play or sit for the first time in his college career — raised the drama for a game that hardly needed a subplot to energize the LSU fans. The last time two teams so highly ranked played at Tiger Stadium was 1959, when No. 1 LSU played No. 3 Mississippi.

Tebow took a double-shot to the head — front and back — against Kentucky two weeks ago. He spent the night in a Lexington hospital. During part of the Gators’ week off, he was not even permitted to watch TV.

He returned to practice on Tuesday, but Florida made it clear it would take all the time it had to decide whether their star would play.

‘‘You know Tim,’’ coach Urban Meyer said. ‘‘It was, ’Let me play. Let me play.’ Nonstop.’’

Tebow was cleared to play before he arrived at Tiger Stadium.

He was the last Gator off the team bus, drawing wild cheers from Florida fans and the loudest ‘‘Tiger Bait’’ taunts from the LSU fans.

He was the last Florida player to jog on the field for pregame warmups. He chugged out of the tunnel to cheers from the Florida fans and went down a line of teammates in the end zone, doling out high-fives and hand slaps. Anybody who watched him play catch, run pass patterns and dart up, down and across the field could tell that he was ready to go.

End of drama. Or maybe not?

About 30 minutes before kickoff, the teams briefly squared off at midfield. The Gators were done with their pregame warmups and gathered at the Eye of the Tiger for one last team jump around before heading back to the locker room.

As the crowd booed, the Tigers decided to defend their turf, with most of the team sprinting toward midfield.

Officials quickly stepped in and no contact appeared to be made between the teams. After a quick encounter, each squad ran off the field in opposite directions to its respective tunnel.

When Tebow made his first game appearance, the Gators were pinned at their own 7. The crowd, almost all decked out in gold, blared.

Tebow’s first play was a simple handoff and he didn’t need to do much more than that to lead the Gators to a 28-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis, and a 3-0 lead.

Sturgis added a 32-yarder in the fourth quarter and also missed a 20-yarder in the third.

Tebow took one solid hit on the first drive, getting rid of a pass just before blitzing defensive back Patrick Paterson put a shoulder in Tebow’s midsection. He connected with Aaron Hernandez for an 8-yard gain on the play.

He carried the ball twice on the 82-yard drive, once on a keeper into the line and once scrambling away from pressure, and gained no yards.

If there was any possible sign that Florida might be protecting Tebow, it came on a fourth-and-2 play at the LSU 29 in the second quarter. The 245-pound Tebow is Florida’s short-yardage specialist, but instead of having him bull into the line of scrimmage, he took a jab step forward then tossed to Brandon James on an end around that was stopped for a loss.

Was Meyer trying to keep Tebow under wraps?

Well, if he was, it didn’t last.

On Florida’s next possession, Tebow scrambled away from a rush and finished off his 8-yard run by lowering a shoulder into a defender. Then he stormed up the middle on an option keeper to covert a third-and-3.

On the next play, Tebow looked left, then fired a pass down the right side to Riley Cooper in the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown. Tebow clapped his hands and jumped into the arms of a teammate to celebrate Florida taking a 10-3 lead with 50 seconds left in the half.

All was well with Tebow and for the Gators.