More than a few eyebrows were raised around the Gator Nation last week when the list of finalists for the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award was announced, and Tim Tebow wasn’t on it.
It’s true that Tebow hasn’t amassed statistics at the same rate he did a year ago, when it sometimes seemed that he and Percy Harvin were Florida’s only reliable offensive weapons. Tebow has carried the ball 137 times this year for 507 yards, but, at this point last season he had 194 carries. It’s no longer just the Tebow-Harvin show.
Before Saturday’s game at Florida State, five different Gators had led the team in rushing in a game, and eight different players had led the team in receiving. Seminole defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews noted, “The thing (Tebow’s) done is he’s not trying to win the game himself. He’s letting the group around him, the skill that he’s got around him, help him do it.”
Defense and special teams have contributed more this year as well. The Gators lead the nation in turnover margin with nine fumble recoveries and 23 interceptions, and they’ve blocked five punts. Because of that, Tebow has often gone to work with the advantage of playing on a short field.
While he has been able to rely more on those around him, he has also guided his team with surgical precision. Against Georgia, for example, he attempted only 13 passes, but completed 10 of them for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
On what was otherwise a very ordinary day, statistically speaking, Tebow was eight of 15 passing for 96 yards against Tennessee. But if you look closely, you discover that six of his eight completions, and 95 of his 96 passing yards, came on third down, with two of those completions being touchdowns. To put it simply, when the Gators needed a play, Tebow made it.
If the Davey O’Brien Award committee looks at numbers alone, they can certainly make a case for the three announced finalists. Sam Bradford (Oklahoma), Colt McCoy (Texas) and Graham Harrell (Texas Tech) have lit up the Big 12 scoreboards, and kept the statisticians busy.
But the Florida faithful know it’s not just his arm and his legs that make Tebow so valuable. Following the agonizing home loss to Mississippi in September, Tebow delivered an emotional pledge to fans and teammates alike, “I promise you one thing: A lot of good will come out of this. 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 rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season.”
The pledge must have worked. In the eight games since then, the Gators have outscored their opponents 414-97, including 136-3 in the first quarter.
After his defense surrendered 502 yards and 45 points to the Gators in Tallahassee on Saturday, Seminole head coach Bobby Bowden had nothing but praise for Tebow, “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better leader…. He directed everything out there. He’s a tremendous player and a tremendous leader.”
But Mickey Andrews may have unwittingly paid Tebow the highest compliment of all. Entering the post-game interview room, he simply announced to those in attendance that he was embarrassed. Then he walked out without answering any questions.
The Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award will be presented on December 11th during the Home Depot ESPNU College Football Awards Show.
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