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Dual-threat Tebow next for AU defense

By Ross Dellenger
sports@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

AUBURN — As Florida coach Urban Meyer paced the sideline during the Gators’ game against Ole Miss last week, his quarterback, Tim Tebow, was screaming in his ear.

“Tim is my worst enemy and his own, too,” Meyer said Monday at his weekly news conference, “because he was screaming at me on the sideline to give him the ball so he can win the game.”

So, with the game on the line, what did Meyer tell his sophomore sensation?

What could he tell Tebow, a Heisman candidate who is the Gators’ passing and rushing leader?

Meyer gave in.

“Somewhat intelligently, I say, ‘OK Tim.’ ”

The Gators’ dual-threat quarterback ran for 166 yards — a Florida quarterback school record — on 27 carries and passed for another 261 yards in Florida’s 30-24 win at Ole Miss on Saturday. He ran for two touchdowns, passed for two more and was responsible for 427 of Florida’s 507 offensive yards.

Auburn (2-2, 0-1 SEC) faces Tebow and the fourth-ranked Gators (4-0, 2-0) on Saturday at Gainesville, Fla. The Tigers, still stunned from back-to-back home losses, are in for a challenge against Florida’s spread offense.

Tebow is at the head of that offense, which ranks first in the SEC with 49 points a game. But don’t expect Tebow to get 27 carries this weekend, or ever again. Meyer said it’s too much of a risk. Then again, Tebow is the team’s best rusher.

“We can direct snap it to other guys” Meyer said, “but it just so happens that probably our best runner is our quarterback ... you have to have some intelligence not to put our players at risk.”

Tebow’s 27 rushing attempts are the most by a quarterback this season. He leads the nation in quarterback rushing touchdowns with seven and is third nationally with a 198 passer rating.

Auburn linebacker Tray Blackmon summed it up best.

“He’s a pretty good quarterback, and they got a pretty good offense, and they got a pretty good team,” he said.

Auburn handled that offense last season, beating then-No. 1 Florida 27-17. It was the only loss of the season for the eventual national champions.

But Tebow was just a backup, entering the game occasionally to add a spark to the offense. After the graduation of Chris Leak, Tebow took the reins of an already-talented offense and made it more explosive.

Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp describes Florida’s offense as a “power running team from the shotgun.”

“They give a lot of glitz and glamour with formations and motions and shifts,” he said. “They’re running basic old running plays, just from a different look.”

Muschamp said its difficult to defend Meyer’s unorthodox offense because you cannot put eight or nine defenders in the box — the area about 7 yards from the line of scrimmage. The offense spreads defenses thin with three or four receivers aligned to the outside.

When defenders move outside to cover them, Tebow, at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, hits you with a keeper up the middle.

“It’s a different way of getting to a power running game as opposed to lining up with two backs and letting everybody load the box,” he said.

If the defense decides to concentrate solely on stopping Tebow by loading the box, then talented receivers like speedster Percy Harvin, 6-3 Riley Cooper and 6-2 Louis Murphy are left in one-on-one matchups — a recipe for disaster.

Decatur High grad Jerraud Powers says the Tigers’ secondary got a nice tune-up for Florida last week against the spread offense of New Mexico State.

“Florida does the same-type stuff with a lot more runs and runs with Tebow,” Powers said.

Auburn gave up big plays in the first half, but allowed just 117 yards in the final two quarters.

So, pick your poison: Load the box and attempt to shut down Tebow, who is averaging 89 rushing yards a game, leaving the secondary helpless; or spread out with five and six defensive backs and hope your defensive line can stop Tebow’s bull-rushes up the gut.

Defensive tackle Pat Sims chooses the latter.

“He’s not going to run through me,” said Sims, who has been wearing a hard black club-like cast on his left hand to protect broken fingers during games.

“When he gets a feel of this club,” Sims said, “he isn’t going to want more problems.”

Five things you may not know about Florida football

  • Auburn actually leads the all-time series with Florida. The Tigers have won 41 times and lost 38 with two ties, but Florida has won eight of the last 10 meetings.

  • Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges coached with Florida’s offensive line coach, Steve Addazio. Addazio served as the offensive line coach at Indiana while Borges was the offensive coordinator. Addazio took over as OC when Borges left to come to Auburn following the 2003 season.

  • Florida’s offense is one of the best in the nation in red-zone scoring. The Gators are 24-of-26 inside the 20-yard line this season with 21 touchdowns and three field goals.

  • Can Auburn catch Florida looking ahead? The fourth-ranked Gators face second-ranked LSU next Saturday in maybe the most important game of the year for both clubs.

  • Florida ranks fourth in the nation with 112 consecutive home sellouts. Nebraska tops the list with 285, followed by Notre Dame (197) and Michigan (144). In 17 years, Florida has lost just 11 games at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

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