Entering 2008, Gator Nation was uneasy on the likelihood of a second National Championship in three seasons, especially following a 9-4 campaign in 2007 and going through the loss of play making tight end Cornelius Ingram and safety Dorian Munroe.
Pessimistic fans watched the Gators jump out to a 3-0 beginning to the 2008 campaign, only to see their undefeated dreams abruptly halted to the Ole Miss Rebels.
Negativity swarmed over the team, but they overcame adversity and built up a swagger demanding productivity and results.
Urban Meyer was impressed, but then again he got the thumbs up and support from the opposition's coaches more than a few times.
Steve Spurrier of the South Carolina Gamecocks blessed the Gators with the words of "win four straight" among other things, which the Gators ultimately did on their way to becoming the 2008 National Champions. Spurrier also added that the team that had beaten his Gamecocks by 50 was "a lot stronger than the team in 2006."
Florida State's Bobby Bowden also gave nothing but high praise for the Gators, calling his 30-point loss at Doak Campbell Stadium a "tail-whipping" and made note of not only the overall team speed of the Gators, but of the speed in which they score points, saying that, "They score so many points so fast that everybody gets out of their gameplan."
Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson gave the Gators a few compliments as well, after Florida beat the Commodores 42-14 on the road. "We played a really outstanding football team tonight," said Johnson. Vanderbilt's coach also made sure to mention Florida's speed, saying, "Their speed is really impressive."
Above all, the most memorable quote of the year wasn't deliver by Spurrier, nor was it uttered by Bobby Bowden or Bobby Johnson. Instead, it took Heisman winning Quarterback Tim Tebow to etch the portrait of motivation into the minds of the Florida Gators.
As you very well know by now, Tebow said the following after the Gators lost to Ole Miss by a point: "You have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season, and you will never see someone push the entire team as hard as I will push everyone the rest of the season, and you'll never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season."
Apparently, Tebow knew what he was talking about. The Gators went undefeated following the debacle at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to Ole Miss, a game in which they turned the ball over three times by way of the fumble and had a bevy of mental lapses, dropping passes and getting beat deep in coverage, as well as a couple costly penalties and some bad play call and execution.
The effects of the speech were immediate, and brought forth something that had been hiding during Meyer's tenure as Florida's head coach.
Consider the running game a weapon of mass destruction. It was there, but it wasn't fully unleashed until it needed to be.
In fact, the future on the ground looked better just a week in advance. The Gators started sluggish against Arkansas; but finished the game with 278 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.
Following that 38-7 victory, Gators fans met the likes of Chris Rainey, Jeffery Demps, Emmanuel Moody, and a vicious and relentless special teams unit. With a new found swagger and a warrior's mentality, the Gators were poised. Destination: Miami
It didn't come as fast as it seems. The Gators took on five ranked teams before they reached the BCS National Championship game, and beat them by an average of 32 points. That includes the 49-10 stomping of rival Georgia, the 56-6 thrashing of South Carolina, and the 45-15 beat down over Florida State.
With the Orange Bowl as the venue for the Championship game, the crowd was figured to be pro-Gators. While that held true, it wasn't being discussed as much as the dynamic offenses that were taking stage in Miami.
If the quote "Defenses Wins Championships" has ever been utilized overall more than the final result in the 2008 BCS National Championship Game, then I'd like to witness this.
Against a team that had scored 60+ in five straight games, and 58 in the game before the first 60 point game, the defense needed to rise to the occasion.
Boy, did they ever.
The Gators kept Oklahoma from scoring in the red zone twice, forcing two red zone turnovers, and also held Heisman winner Sam Bradford in check in the games entirety.
Without the defense, who a year ago disappointed many, the Gators probably wouldn't have hoisted the Coaches Trophy in Miami on Thursday.
Then again, they wouldn't have in 2006, either.
The Gators held the Sooners on their second trip to the red zone, when Oklahoma attempted to convert fourth down by running the ball. Like many SEC teams had seen in weeks past, the Gators got excellent penetration after the ball was snapped, and disrupt a routine run from getting going before it could even get started.
With their backs against the wall once more as the second quarter was in it's final seconds, the defense stepped up yet again. Bradford tried to force a pass into coverage, which was batted around and finally intercepted by safety Major Wright.
Safety, a position which looked exceptionally weak entering 2008 for the Gators, especially after team leader Dorian Munroe went down, rose to many challenges this season. In fact, both safeties were dominate in the pass coverage.
Ahmad Black, free safety, led the team with seven interceptions, two returned for touchdowns. Major Wright, the strong safety, was second on the team with four interceptions, one returned for a touchdown.
Entering the game, Black had only six interceptions. So you figure his seventh was big, right?
An assumption that's presumably incorrect.
His seventh pick of the season being labeled big is an understatement. Not only was it big, it was huge, and probably won the game for the Gators.
With Oklahoma trailing by a field goal, 17-14, in the fourth quarter and the ball at midfield, Bradford dropped back to pass. He thought he had a man, it looked like he had a man, and he did have a man.
Unfortunately for him, Black played the role of robber; stripping the ball right of his man's hands and giving Florida possession.
The Gators obtained the final score following that crucial turnover, and got the last score, winning 24-14.
Although Tim Tebow was named Offensive Player of the Game, Percy Harvin was a large contribution in Florida's offense. The wide receiver/running back accounted for a touchdown, as well as 122 rushing yards and 49 receiving yards.
This after working hard to play in the game, suffering a high ankle sprain against Florida State in late-November.
That kind of gritty determination and refusal to surrender when times get tough has been the staple of Meyer's tenure at the University of Florida, and has been the component behind two National Championships in four seasons.
This is Gator Football, live it, earn it, and respect it.
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