Once-maligned Gators defense rises to ultimate challenge
Florida's defense had watched a special on Ravens All-Pro linebacker
So when Florida retook the lead 24-20 in the fourth quarter, the middle linebacker whom
"I got everybody together on the sideline. It was time for a little meeting," Spikes said, standing amid the confetti that fell from the roof after Florida's 31-20 victory. "I said, 'They talked about (the defense being weak) last year and now it is our time to win a championship.'"
And the defense did just that, finally standing up to an Alabama offense that pounded its way to within a quarter of the SEC title. On first down, the Gators forced an incompletion. On second down,
"That sack was the play of the night," said linebacker
And when that stand was made, and Alabama was forced to punt it back to
On the sideline, Black grabbed a whiteboard and quickly wrote 'SEC Champs', becoming the first one to declare the game over despite the two-plus minutes that remained on the clock. Cunningham was accepting hugs from anyone in blue and orange, and the defense had to do nothing but watch Tebow finish it off before the indoor fireworks exploded.
Meyer had tried to dispel the notion prior to the game that the Alabama-Florida matchup was one of toughness vs. finesse, feeling his team is just as tough as any, despite having one of the fastest teams in America. After shutting down a power running team with the game on the line, and scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns against a top defense, Meyer couldn't help but gush about the guts his team showed.
"The foundating of our program is built on toughness," he said. "It starts with mat drills in February and ends with fourth-quarter wins in the SEC championship game. We are a very tough program."
Tebow, of course, steals the headlines for his heroics on the field and his integrity off it. Last year's Heisman winner threw three touchdowns on Saturday, was named the game's MVP and would have personally thanked every last Gator fan in attendance if he wasn't finally shoo-ed to the locker room after the game. But for all the touchdowns, the Heisman and the goodwill, Florida lost four games in 2007, and that was pinned mostly on the defense.
"Last year, our defense wasn't the best," Cunningham said. "We tried to work all summer to prove the Florida Gators have a defense."
With the SEC championship game on the line, the Gators proved it.