After easy tuneup, Gators look to finish strong

Published: Saturday, November 21, 2009 at 6:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 21, 2009 at 6:56 p.m.

For a few hours on a perfect fall afternoon, the Florida Gators stepped away from the pressure that has been dogging their every move since August.


Three Things to Know

1. Urban Meyer expected a more competitive game, but it didn't happen, with the Gators scoring touchdowns on eight of 10 offensive possessions to put a serious hurt on out-manned Florida International.

2. Three of those touchdowns were produced by All-America quarterback Tim Tebow, who ran 55 yards for one score and threw two touchdown passes before leaving the game early in the third quarter.

3. FIU's offense had no chance against Florida's fast and aggressive defense. The Golden Panthers had only 18 yards of offense in the first quarter and finished with 189.

They took a nice, deep, relaxing breath and blew away out-manned Florida International 62-3 before 90,473 in The Swamp on Saturday.

Then they stepped right back into the pressure.

Only a few minutes after the victory, Urban Meyer announced that rivalry week has already begun for No. 1 Florida.

Preparation is underway for Florida State, the final hurdle the Gators must clear to reach Atlanta and the SEC Championship Game a perfect 12-0.

"It's the world," Meyer said of the FSU rivalry. "It's what makes this job the best in college football. It's what makes this stadium the best in college football. This is going to be a special week. It's started already.

"We have a plan. The plan is to practice really hard on Tuesday. It's not secret handshakes or anything like that. It's just go as hard as we can on Tuesday and then come back and go as hard as we can again on Wednesday. We didn't spend a whole lot of time (talking about Saturday's win in the locker room). It's rivalry week. We've been here before. So, let's get started."

How big is this Florida State game for the Gators?

Here's a good indication: This is the team that made Tim Tebow cry when he was a little boy, growing up a Gator fan just outside of Jacksonville.

"Whey is it so important to me?" Tebow said. "Since I can remember watching football, I've been watching that game.

"When Florida State beat Florida in 1996, we didn't think we'd go to the national championship. I remember my dad made me go outside and cut the grass and rake the leaves. The whole time I was raking leaves, I was crying because Florida State just beat Florida.

"That's just one example of how special this game is. Winning this game helps put a smile on your face, that's for sure."

Tebow and the Gators had smiles on their faces Saturday after enjoying a big-time tuneup game in The Swamp.

Playing a little more than a half, Tebow rushed for one touchdown and threw for two others to lead the Gators to a 42-3 lead early in the third quarter. Then Tebow and the rest of the starters turned the game over to the backups and young players in a game that was never in doubt.

It was a much different (and much more relaxing) atmosphere than what the Gators have been experiencing in the grind that is the SEC schedule.

"It think it's good for momentum," said Tebow, who rushed for 102 yards and passed for 215. It's good to get some (young) guys catches, some playing time. You see a lot of what you're going to have next year. Also, it's good for giving some guys a little bit of rest. You want to get the opportunity to rest and get ready for a tough two weeks. That's something that's nice about a game like this."

The Gators gave everyone a glimpse into the future and it looks pretty promising.

No. 2 quarterback John Brantley was particularly impressive, along with redshirt freshmen wide receiver Omarius Hines and Frankie Hammond Jr.

Brantley completed 9-of-13 passes for 146 yards and three touchdowns. So on this day, Brantley had more touchdown passes than Tebow.

"That's kind of cool, I guess," Brantley said of besting Tebow's touchdown pass total. "It was a lot of fun out there today, a lot of fun. I was real happy with the offensive line and the receivers. They did a heck of a job blocking and catching the ball. I give them all the credit.

"I've been patient for three years. You know what, I've learned so much. I've taken it all in these three years. I've try to learn as much as I can. To sit behind one of the greatest players in college football is a blessing to me."

Brantley threw touchdown passes on three consecutive possessions. He had a 20-yarder to Hines, a 16-yarder to Justin Williams and a 31-yarder to Hammond Jr. on a fourth-and-11 play in the fourth quarter.

The future (especially in the passing game) looks good.

"It's fun (to watch)," Tebow said. "There are going to be a lot of talented dudes out there on the field in the future. You saw that today. It's exciting to see guys who haven't gotten many opportunities to go out there and show what they what they've got.

"Not only Brantley, but Omar Hines and Frankie Hammond and Justin Williams. It's fun to see because you root for those guys."

For a few hours Saturday, the Gators had a chance relax and watch the young guys play.

Now it's back to the grind, back to the pressure that comes with being undefeated with two games to go.

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