Questions linger, but Tebow and Gators survive big scare

Publish date:

Just as Tim Tebow let fly, the receiver stumbled. For an instant, you had to wonder: Was this Florida's Ole Miss moment?

But Riley Cooper scrambled to his feet. The ball arrived. He caught it. And a moment later, Caleb Sturgis' field goal helped the top-ranked Gators avoid a serious stumble.

Maybe it really was a trap game. But Florida 23, Arkansas 20 felt like something else. Urban Meyer called it "just SEC football," which is fair enough.

It was also fair warning.

Tebow willed the Gators to another win. At 6-0, they're halfway home. The run at a second straight national title remains on track. But questions linger.

Nevermind that Florida was favored at home by almost four touchdowns, but committed four turnovers. For now, don't worry that the offense remains a shell of last season's powerful unit -- the Gators couldn't run, and Tebow was sacked six times -- or that Arkansas was unable to capitalize on several scoring opportunities that might have changed the outcome.

What matters is Florida survived. The winning streak stands at 16.

You might remember the last loss, more than a year ago now, came on the same Florida Field, against another big underdog. The Hogs didn't have quite enough to pull off the upset.

Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett missed a couple of open receivers in the end zone, and the Hogs' Alex Tejada missed two field goals. Was there much doubt, after Tejada's 38-yard attempt for the lead hooked left with 3:08 left, what was about to happen?

Well, no. Tebow took over. And so Florida got all the scare of Ole Miss '08, without the damage.

Florida lost four fumbles -- two deep in Arkansas territory -- and other than a 77-yard strike from Tebow to Deonte Thompson for a third-quarter touchdown, didn't create any big plays. Florida played most of the game without middle linebacker and defensive leader Brandon Spikes, who injured a groin, and two starting defensive linemen.

But defense remains the team's strength. Well, and Tebow.

Meanwhile, Arkansas' record (3-3, 1-3 SEC) doesn't show it, but in his second season Bobby Petrino has the program headed in the right direction. Coming off a big win over Auburn, the Razorbacks looked capable of a much bigger accomplishment against Florida.

Mallett was off-target (12-of-27, 224 yards) for much of the day, but he was perfect in hitting Greg Childs for 75 yards and a touchdown to give the Hogs a 20-13, fourth-quarter lead. Florida tied it back up, and after Tejada's second miss, Tebow took over.

We've seen it before. Stymied for much of the game (Arkansas' six sacks were one shy of the total the Gators had allowed in the first five games), Tebow moved Florida methodically downfield -- 14 plays, almost three minutes -- for the win.

Once again, Tebow answered questions about his passing ability -- 17-of-26 for 255 yards, the perfect strike to Thompson and a third-quarter touchdown. And in the critical moments, like on that final drive, he was his familiar self.

Scrambling for first downs. Escaping rushes. Finding receivers. Even when, like Cooper, they slipped.

The 12-yard completion on third-and-10 put the Gators within Sturgis' range at the 28. From there, Tebow ran twice, setting up Sturgis' chip shot.

Florida's still perfect, and the Gators get the benefit of Ole Miss, 2008 -- without the loss. No postgame proclamations necessary, and what matters isn't the (lack of) style, but the win.

Take this away from a puzzling Saturday in the Swamp: The nation's top-ranked team has some lingering questions. But Tebow remains a pretty good answer.