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Colleges

Tebow, Gators Stopped Short By Ole Miss

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: May 16, 2013 at 09:25 PM
GAINESVILLE -

With the game on the line and the ball in Tim Tebow's hands - just the way the Florida Gators would have wanted it - everything this time went haywire.

With blessed escape inches away as a frustrating and confounding afternoon wore to a fire-drill conclusion Saturday afternoon, the Gators' well finally went dry. On fourth-and-less-than-a-yard - just one first down away from what Coach Urban Meyer considered game-winning field goal range - Tebow was nailed like a two-by-four.

Trailing Mississippi 31-30 with the ball at the Rebels' 32-yard line and 55 seconds left to play, the Gators did what all of college football knew they would.

And the Rebels did what no one would have dreamed.

They stopped the Heisman Trophy piledriver on the play he has all but patented.

They upset Florida in The Swamp.

"Very, very rarely do we get stopped on fourth-and-one," Tebow said. "Part of our swagger has been that we can always convert on fourth-and-one. We've done it for the last two years."

Not this time. Not with Ole Miss 340-pound nose tackle Jerry Peria in the way, sending Tebow tumbling inches short of his goal and the Gators doing likewise.

The 31-30 stunner promises to send the nation's No. 4 ranked team sliding backward in the polls, just when it had a chance to climb following No. 1 Southern Cal's loss Thursday night.

"It looked like they got penetration and he ran into a brick wall," Meyer said. "It was only a yard. We got those in the past. In that situation he's our best runner."

Meyer could have called for a 49-yard field goal attempt, which would have won the game, but opted for a proven play.

"He usually gets it," Meyer said.

Tebow lamented that it was a situation as quarterback he relishes and, indeed, one in which he always has seemed to thrive. The Gators had failed to tie when Jonathan Phillips' extra-point attempt was blocked with 4:26 left, but there had been no panic. Getting the football back at their own 22 with 2:05 left, three consecutive completions had brought life back to the disbelieving crowd of 90,106.

"We knew we were going to get the ball back," Tebow said. "That's something as a quarterback you want - the opportunity with two minutes left in the game and a shot to lead your team to a victory. At the time I had 100 percent faith in my team and myself that we were going to drive down and score."

Florida's failure, however, took place long before Tebow was stopped.

What was the 22-point favorite playing at home doing needing a furious fourth-quarter comeback to start with - besides, of course, falling to 3-1 and 1-1 in the SEC while the Rebels improved to 3-2 and 1-1 by winning their first conference road game in four years?

"Statistically, go back and look at it," UF offensive coordinator Dan Mullen said. "We had big offensive game. We had more yards. But we came out on the wrong end. We turned it over, they didn't."

The nation's only team without a turnover going into the game left with three. Ole Miss scored 10 points directly from the gifts. And if that wasn't a Gators' surprise, the identities of the culprits who coughed up the football on back-to-back occasion to start the third quarter were shocking: Playmaker Percy Harvin and Tebow.

The result was a disappointing day that should have been one of Harvin's best.

He caught 13 passes for a career-high 186 yards and a touchdown and carried 10 times for 82 yards and a touchdown.

Tebow was 24 of 38 passing for 319 yards, but ran 15 times for only 7 yards and two scores.

"I am surprised and disappointed," Meyer said. "Mistakes occur. I don't think it was an effort issue or a character issue - especially when you look at the personnel that did it. So we just have to get better. It's part of college football.

"We'll find out what kind of toughness we have. And everybody says that. But it's the truth."

Florida can take heart from a history lesson. The last time Ole Miss beat a top-five ranked team was a 20-13 victory against No. 3 Notre Dame in 1977. Notre Dame went on to win the national title that season. The Gators, however, will wisely aim at more immediate and less extreme goals.

"The goal coming into the season is always how you get yourself to win the SEC East and get yourself to Atlanta," Mullen said. "If I'm not mistaken, we still control our own destiny.

"A lot of people and players get the expectations of things they can't control. We can control whether we get to Atlanta and play for the SEC championship."

Or they could be stopped.


Reporter Mick Elliott can be reached at (813) 281-2534 or melliott@tampatrib.com.

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