The 2009 Florida Gator football season will come down to one 90 degree turn of the wrist, lasting only about three-quarters of a second in duration.
Who performs this movement, is not as important.
The injury to Tim Tebow in last Saturday’s game undoubtedly caused a few aneurysms across the Gator nation, and rightfully so, as many people between Miami and Tallahassee swear allegiance to the Orange and Blue.
As Tebow lay in the Kentucky bluegrass, flayed out like a fresh caught mahi-mahi, minds began to race. Questions formed, hypotheses followed.
“Is he ok?”
This can be answered with a simple “No.” The answer was clear by the fact that Tebow let the ball drop, tumbling to the turf as he followed suit. Yes, he fumbled last week but it was in a diving effort over a player near the goal line.
This time was different. The ball was tucked tightly in his grasp when the Wildcat defender closed in, barreling his helmet into Tebow’s torso. Then as Tebow’s helmet jarred against his teammate’s knee, and the ball limped out…the question was answered.
“How bad is it?”
This would not be answered for an hour or so, but as Tim left the stadium in an ambulance, everyone knew it was bad. Bad, bad.
Finally, a day later, the results were confirmed the he had sustained a concussion. As the details are slowly leaked, it can be understood that this was not as catastrophic as once feared, but it is not good. The timetable on Tebow’s return is not clear yet, which leads to the next question:
“What happens without Tebow?”
This will be the title of many articles in the offseason, as the Gators try to rebuild after losing one of the all-time greatest players to suit up and step on Florida Field. But now the question must be asked today. The answer is complex, but the conclusion is the same: Florida needs to find someone with a great fake pitch.
Watching the last two games against Tennessee and Kentucky, Tebow has not won the game with his throws, his runs, or even his passion. He has only attempted 19 and 10 passes in each of the SEC games.
The Gators haven’t needed much of that Tim Tebow passion and firing up to win late in the game as both were relatively in control by the third quarter. He has run for a lot of yards, totaling 76 and 123 rushing yards against Tennessee and Kentucky, respectively.
But those totals are not because of the line opening grand canyons or Tebow’s cat like agility. Many of those yards came after a brilliant fake pitch.
The entire option play revolves around the pitch. Unless the defense has it perfectly mapped out and covered, there will often by one guy left out on an island to take both the current ballcarrier and the potential ballcarier, in this case the quarterback and the running back.
If the defender steps up to tackle the man with the ball, out pops the pigskin to the waiting pitch-man and a big gain ensues. If the defender cheats to the pitch-man, the current ballcarrier scoots upfield, again, for a big gain. It’s a thing of beauty.
But, even if the defender plays it perfectly and positions himself in an ideal spot to make a play on both men, the fake pitch can wreak havoc.
Tebow has shown that the timing and execution of a fake opens up lanes that were never there before. He schooled countless Wildcat defenders all day on Satuday with side stepping, wrist cocks, subtle leans and the like. He is a master of deception when it comes to running the option.
And thus, the little things are what lead to the big 25 yard runs everyone high-fives about. But it all started with that first defender missing his mark.
Even when the ball is actually pitched to Jeff Demps or Chris Rainey, that was set up by previous plays where Tebow had his defender guessing like he was playing Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego?
The good news is that Florida has the parts to compensate for Tebow’s absence. John Brantley has the arm (maybe a better one), Emmanuel Moody has the power running game, Rainey and Demps have (much more of) the speed, and Brandon Spikes has the passion and leadership.
But who can run a successful option? Will Johnny B make that outside linebacker wait just a bit too long to advance to the pitch man, enabling the slick Demps to tear up the sideline?
Will Moody line up in a “wildcat” formation and dare the cornerback to tackle him or endure a touchdown celebration?
Could it be Demps or Rainey that learn the nuances of a good option fake?
Only time will tell us what happens in the Post-Tebow era. Hopefully, in the off-week, Tim gets healthy and is cleared to safely participate in the LSU game. Ideally the question won’t have to be answered for a few more months. But if it comes to the point where it has to be addressed now, the coaches are going to have to be creative.
They must find ways to run the offense using multiple people and utilizing their unique strengths. All the talent in the backfield will need to assemble like the Transformers Decepticons when they form the Devastator.
And someone needs to learn how to execute a fake pitch.
It's just a lot easier when all that comes in one package wearing No. 15.