Gators basking in limelight of third national title

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow is surrounded by the media on Thursday night.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 5:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 5:17 p.m.

MIAMI Just like two years ago in Glendale, Ariz., Florida coach Urban Meyer sat at the postgame press conference early Friday morning with son Nate at his side, beaming over winning the national championship, the Gators' second in three seasons.

But this one feels different than the first, a smiling Meyer said.

"Two years ago, that was a great (UF) team in a bad program," Meyer said after the Gators' 24-14 victory over Oklahoma in the BCS Championship Game at Dolphin Stadium. "This is a great team in a great program right now. It's just a good bunch of guys that I trust. I trust them with my life. I love these guys.

"I'm not sure I enjoyed that last one a lot. I'm going to enjoy this one, because this is a team I can trust. We're going to enjoy this one and we're going to have a lot of guys coming back."

Two years removed from that first national title, Meyer said he has never felt better about his players or his program, which certainly enjoys elite status, along with Meyer, the first coach to win two BCS Championship games.

"I just love our team, our program," Meyer said.

There is a lot to love after Thursday night's performance.

The Florida defense, which doesn't have a single senior starter, stymied what many considered to be the greatest offense in the history of college football, one that averaged 54.0 points a game and was led by Heisman-winning quarterback Sam Bradford.

The Gators pressured Bradford all night, sacking him twice, and somehow knocked the Sooners out of their incredible offensive rhythm.

Bradford threw for only 256 yards and was intercepted twice. His second pick, coming midway through the fourth quarter, was a killer. Strong safety Ahmad Black plucked the ball right out of the hands of wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias on the UF 24-yard line. From there, quarterback Tim Tebow led the Gators on the clinching drive, which culminated with a 4-yard TD pass to David Nelson on a jump pass that put UF up 24-14 with 3:07 to play.

"The play of the game was Ahmad Black snatching the ball away from the wide receiver," Meyer said.

It was one of many huge defensive plays on the night. Two others were the red-zone stops the Gators came up with inside the 5-yard line in the second half. On the first, defensive tackle Torrey Davis nailed tailback Chris Brown for a 2-yard loss on a fourth-and-goal from the 1. The second was an interception on the 3-yard line by safety Major Wright on a tipped pass.

Those plays helped the Gators frustrate a fast-break OU offense that had scored 60 or more points in its last five games. On this night, the Sooners managed only two touchdowns one in each half and 363 total yards of offense, a paltry number compared to what they usually put up.

"They were making statements throughout the whole game," middle linebacker Brandon Spikes said. "We felt like we were disrespected, like they thought they were going to come out and run up and down the field. You know, it was just another challenge and I like how we stepped up to it, the whole team."

While OU couldn't handle the UF defense, the Gators got huge games out of Tebow and star wide receiver Percy Harvin, who tweaked his high ankle sprain two days earlier, but still managed to make some big, game-changing plays.

Harvin rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown and also caught five passes for 49 yards. His 2-yard TD run gave the Gators a 14-7 lead with 4:21 to play in the third quarter. His 52-yard run set up a 28-yard Jonathan Phillips field goal that put the Gators up 17-14 early in the fourth quarter.

"Our trainers have done a great job getting him ready to play, but the guy that did it was Percy," Meyer said. "When (the injury) happened (in the FSU game on Nov. 29), we tried to stay positive. He went straight through (in rehab) and took only a day-and-a-half off after the injury.

"That's one of the guttiest performances I've ever been around. He had almost 200 yards of total offense."

Harvin and Tebow led an offensive attack that sputtered at times, but came up big when the game was on the line and produced 480 total yards.

"I wanted to do whatever I could to help my team win this game, and I was trying to run some people over, to get the crowd into it, to get the momentum," Tebow said. "I'm just happy we had some open holes and ran and made a few plays, which I think gave us a little momentum."

The offense appeared off its game through much of the first half, but got on a roll in the second.

"We settled down at halftime and played Florida football in the second half," center Maurkice Pouncey said. "We had great leaders and great chemistry, and we played well."

What's next for the Gators?

"We win another one," Pouncey said.

For the Sooners and Bob Stoops, it was a frustrating night of lost opportunities.

"We had some opportunities to make a difference in the first half and we came up short," Stoops said. "In the second half, down the stretch in the fourth quarter, we came up a play or two short, and Florida made the plays. Florida is a great team and they made a few more plays."

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