The national sports media faced its Waterloo on September 26th when its All-Time Hero to the World, Tim Tebow, was hospitalized after his helmet struck teammate Marcus Gilbert's leg during a sack at Kentucky.
Immediately pundits began to ponder, had The LSU Tigers been granted their second Blue Grass Miracle?
Would Tebow start in this Saturday’s showdown with the No. 4 Tigers in Death Valley?
More importantly for Tebow’s family and supporters, would this concussion have any long-term impact on the Heisman Trophy recipient’s long-term future?
These questions will be answered over time but the injury to Tebow may indeed be the turning point in both Florida and LSU’s respective seasons.
While Florida was pre-ordained as this year’s champion, and most current subject of the media’s "Greatest Team to Ever Play the Game" (see the '03 Sooners, the '05 Trojans, and '06 Buckeyes for other examples) comedy series, the Tigers have headlined the "Upset Alert" segment on ESPN’s College Game Day virtually every week.
Neither team has done much, at least from the media’s perspective, to change anyone’s mind so Florida goes into this road game with questions at quarterback, playing at one of the World’s roughest venues, against the No. 4 tough-minded Tigers as a ten-point favorite.
That may be just fine with the Tigers, who have excelled in the underdog role in recent years ('09 at UGA, '08 Peach Bowl, '07 National Championship game, etc…) and know how to face adversity—perhaps better than any team in the country.
More importantly, Tebow’s injury forces Florida to change its offense, whether Tebow starts or not, to play to the Tigers' strength on defense.
Sophomore QB John Brantley is traditionally a dropback passer and lacks the fullback ability of Tebow. With his best weapon—wide receiver Deonte Thompson, who has been out several weeks with a hamstring injury—still questionable, the Tigers should be able to live on man coverage and stack the line to stop the Florida running game.
This could lead to a lot of opportunities for Jordan Jefferson and the Tigers high-powered, though yet-to-be fully weaponized offense to see if it can get on track and hit the mark against Florida’s ruthless defense.
No easy task, exploiting the No. 1 defense (scoring and total) in the SEC, but the Tigers have the personnel—SEC Offensive Player of the Week Charles Scott, All-American Brandon LaFell, world class speedster Trindon Holiday, and a bevy of speed and skill throughout the line up—to get it done.
You might well say, that it will require the Tigers' best effort of the season. But isn’t that exactly what the Tigers have delivered every week, with each week’s performance improving over the last?
Ah, "But what if Tebow starts?," you ask?
Call me crazy, and I’m sure many will, but I for one think that would be better for the Tigers!
When Tebow announced his arrival to LSU by running over the Tigers' "Hit King" Darry Beckwith a couple of years ago, and when he lamblasted Tennessee’s All-American defensive stud Eric Berry earlier this year, it was called "Tebow, being Tebow." That’s all it was.
The Gators have been at their absolute best when Tebow is just being Tebow; that is, running a punishing triple spread option offense like a fullback with an arm and a heart of steel.
Frankly it’s hard to argue with the results: 7033 yards total offense, 111 touchdowns (38 rushing), 26 wins as a starter, two National Title rings, a Heisman Trophy and counting…
Yet, even for Superman, there is Kryptonite.
Early in the season last year, Urban Meyer experimentally took away the fullback duties and tried to convert Tebow into a pocket passer.
The results netted Florida several unimpressive wins versus lesser opponents and one upset at the hands of the Ole Miss Rebels.
Without the dynamic of Tebow on the ground as a primary option for the defense to contend with, the Gators were somewhat pedestrian on offense.
Two weeks later, the offense was unleashed with speedsters Jeffery Demps, Chris Rainey, and Tebow, back to being Tebow.
The result was the worst beat down LSU had been on the receiving end of in generations.
The Gators drowned LSU in the Swamp, 51-21, and went on to average over 50 points per game through the balance of the regular season en route to their second National Title in three years.
But ask yourself this question, with (even a mild) traumatic brain injury still healing inside his soon-to-be worth millions upon millions skull, can he afford to just be Tebow?
Better question, will Meyer allow him to risk his entire future even if he is cleared to play?
If you do see Tebow on the field Saturday Night, don’t expect him to be the leading rusher, and don’t expect him to be dropping his shoulder and plowing head first over Kelvin Sheppard, Jacob Cutrera, and other Tiger defenders.
To do so would definitely be "Tebow, being Tebow" but it would also be Meyer being foolish—and that he is not.
Truth be told, this game is losable for both teams, neither needs to win to keep their division, SEC, or National hopes alive. For the loser would still hold its own destiny by virtue of winning out and likely forcing a rematch in Atlanta.
Nobody wants to lose and you can bet both coaches will do everything in their power to lead his team to victory.
Florida will have to do it with the pocket passer formerly known as Superman or his side-kick and heir-apparent John Bradley. Either way, it spells trouble in Death Valley.
LSU 24 – Florida 17
By Henry Ball – Syndicated Writer and Featured Columnist @ Bleacher Report
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