SWEET SEND-OFF: GATORS CRUSH CINCINNATI
Published: Friday, January 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 2, 2010 at 1:36 a.m.
NEW ORLEANS — Maybe this is exactly what Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators needed.
A pressure-free performance. A stress-less, one-sided romp on the national stage.
A perfect send-off for record-setting quarterback Tim Tebow and the winningest senior class in school and SEC history.
All the potentially crippling distractions that assaulted this team throughout the week were no factor Friday night in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
With Tebow playing one of the best games of his career — and the half of his life — the No. 5 Gators overwhelmed No. 4 Cincinnati 51-24 in the Superdome, spoiling the Bearcats' undefeated season.
Tebow broke the Sugar Bowl records for passing yards (482) and total yards (533). UF's 51 points were the second-most in the game's history, just one shy of the 52 the Gators put up in a 52-20 victory over Florida State in 1997. UF also set a Sugar Bowl record with 646 total yards.
For the game, Tebow completed 31 of 35 passes and threw three touchdowns. He also rushed for a score. His 31 completions tied a Sugar Bowl record.
"Tim Tebow will go down as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, player in the history of college football," Meyer said. "I want to thank the most successful senior class in the history of the Southeastern Conference."
Moments later on the post-game trophy stand, Meyer was asked about his future.
"I plan on being the coach of the Gators," he said. "But this is all about the players, the senior class. I love our players, I love our coaches and I love Gator Nation."
When asked about his health, Meyer said, "I've got to work on that a little bit."
Distractions? What distractions?
For a few glorious, stress-free hours Friday night, they vanished. The Gators put the events of the past week — and Meyer's uncertain future at Florida — behind them, putting together one of UF's most complete performances of the season.
The question now is: what next?
Meyer begins an indefinite leave of absence today, with offensive coordinator Steve Addazio stepping in as the interim head coach. There is no timetable for Meyer's return, and no guarantee that he will, even though he seemed to indicate he would after Friday's game.
UF also will find out in the next few days if any more assistant coaches will be leaving for other jobs and how many juniors will be departing early for the NFL. As many as 10 underclassmen could be declaring for the draft, in what could be a mass exodus.
In what was a farewell game for Tebow and the seniors (and maybe many others), the Gators made it a memorable final performance for one of the most successful teams in school history. UF finishes 13-1 for the second consecutive season and the third time under Meyer.
"I would like to thank my teammates and coaches. I love them all," said Tebow, the game's most outstanding player. "We wanted to end it on a good note. It was very special to go out this way with these seniors and this coaching staff. It's extremely special for all of us."
After Meyer announced a week ago that he was resigning after the game, then reversed his decision the next day, saying he would take an indefinite leave of absence instead, many were wondering how the Gators would respond.
They left no doubt where their minds were Friday night.
This game was basically over at the half after Tebow passed the Gators to a 30-3 lead. It was the best 30-minute performance of his career. Tebow completed 20 of 23 passes for 320 yards and three touchdowns, while the UF defense went about throttling one of the nation's most potent offenses.
Tebow, who completed his first 12 passes, set the tone in the game's opening minutes, culminating the Gators' first possession with a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez.
Tebow and the UF offense made it look easy for the rest of the night.
Caleb Sturgis kicked a 40-yard field goal, Tebow threw a 7-yard TD pass to Deonte Thompson and Emmanuel Moody scored on a 6-yard run to give the Gators a 23-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
Then, the play after the Bearcats kicked a 47-yard field goal, Tebow and his roommate, senior wide receiver Riley Cooper, hooked up for perhaps the highlight moment of the game — an 80-yard touchdown bomb with 3:02 remaining in the half that put the game out of reach.
The Gators were unstoppable for most of the night on offense. The UF defense had a performance that was maybe just as good.
The Bearcats, who were averaging almost 40 points a game, were held to a season-low 246 yards.
"Coming into this game, being 12-0, the outcome of tonight's game certainly wasn't the way we expected it to go," interim Cincinnati coach Jeff Quinn said. "I give credit to Coach Meyer and the Florida Gators. They're a tremendous football team. Certainly, they displayed why they are."
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