This win, this title stands alone

Published: Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 12:48 a.m.

MIAMI This one was the best yet.


Dooley Grades the Gators

First half: Tim Tebow's two interceptions hurt the Gator cause but a big problem was establishing a running game.
Second half: The Gators finally got it going behind Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin. They had 267 yards, 180 of them on the ground.
For the game: This wasn't Florida's best offensive game but they did what they had to do when they had to do it.

First half: The Gators gave up 225 yards but a pair of big plays in the red zone allowed Florida to escape the half only allowing seven points.
Second half: The Gators allowed only 138 yards in the second half and got the big interception from Ahmad Black.
For the game: While Florida did allow 363 yards but the Gators kept making big plays defensively.

First half: The perceived edge for Florida didn't show up in the first half although special teams weren't a big factor in the half.
Second half: The blocked field goal was huge in the game and the Gators won the special teams battle in the half.
For the game: Special teams were good and made the one really big play on the blocked field goal.

There is nothing better than a national title win in a game that was so close.

I know 1996 was special and 2006 was stunning.

But this one was the best yet.

Those national titles were blowouts.

This took something special.

This one was about heart.

This one was about overcoming injuries all season and again in the biggest game of the season.

This one was about a defense that was embarrassed a year ago playing its guts out.

This one was the best yet.

Because it was so hard.

Florida's football team went toe-to-toe with the BCS No. 1 team and faced a lot of adversity. There were a pair of uncharacteristic Tim Tebow interceptions. And even with those picks, Tebow once again put his team on his back and led it to victory.

You can go ahead and start those discussions about whether or not Tebow is the best college football player ever. I know that after Thursday night, he's in the conversation.

"He's one of those guys, you give him your best shot and he's going to get back up," Oklahoma defensive back Nic Harris said.

There was Percy Harvin's ankle, injured again on Tuesday and twisted by an Oklahoma defender during the game. And all he did was run for 122 yards and catch 49 yards worth of passes.

There were Aaron Hernandez and David Nelson and Riley Cooper making clutch catches.

But mostly, this was about Florida's defense.

Oklahoma could not be stopped, right? And this defense had its problems stopping the Sooners. But they almost always did. Oklahoma scored 14 points? Are you kidding me?

"We knew it would be a fight," linebacker Brandon Spikes said. "They've got a great offense, but I like our defense in games like this."

Big 12 defenses may not be very good, but Oklahoma's was outstanding. The only way Florida could win this game was to match the effort, the intensity. Even though defensive backs were often grabbing their hips to catch a breath, they never stopped covering. Linebackers never stopped flying to the ball. Linemen never stopped rushing with everything they had.

On an effort level, this might have been the best ever for a Florida team.

Obviously, both of these defenses came out ready to play. Florida held Oklahoma without points on the Sooners' first two possessions, the first time that has happened all year. But it was clear that Bob Stoops' defense was prepared to back up the chippy rhetoric of the week.

At the half, anyone who bet the under was popping open a champagne bottle.

Charlie Strong told me Thursday morning that he wanted to blitz.

"Their offensive line blocks really well," he said, "but they're going to have to block moving targets."

While Florida's defense struggled in the second quarter, allowing five runs of 11 yards or more, the Gators came up big in the red zone with a goal-line stand and an interception on a pass that bounced around like a volleyball until Major Wright corralled it with three seconds left in the half.

"It's ironic because we've been so good in the red zone and came up short," Stoops said.

This was what nobody expected and nobody watching at home really wanted. We wanted fireworks and got fire-breathing defenders. We expected missed tackles and got missed opportunities.

We got a game that wasn't pretty, but ended up beautiful for the Gator Nation.

The best ever.

Because this was not a game for the kiddies. This was a man's game.

And the best man on the field wore No. 15.

"Tim was a little stressed at the half," outgoing offensive coordinator Dan Mullen said. "He's a perfectionist. He told me, 'Don't be afraid to give me the ball.' "

After a mediocre first half, Tebow was sensational in the second half.

"I knew that Tim was going to get us to the end zone at the end," Spikes said. "He's Superman."

That final score was the clincher, when Tebow hit David Nelson on the jump pass that is a big part of his legend.

"I love that play," Tebow said. "Oklahoma was really coming at me. I was so excited."

But what made this so wonderful for Gator fans was that this was a game that could have gotten away, and these players and these coaches wouldn't let it. This was about everybody, from scout players to special teams players to star players.

It was about so much. These games are always about legacies. Think about Tebow's now. Think about Harvin's. Think about the seniors.

Think about Urban Meyer. Four years, two national titles.

And the best one yet.

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