Tebow arm, not legs, lead Gators to 21st straight over UK
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators showed those upstarts from Kentucky they're still the team to beat in the SEC East.
Tebow threw for 256 yards and a career-high four touchdown passes, and No. 14 Florida rebounded from back-to-back losses with a 45-37 victory over No. 8 Kentucky on Saturday.
A week after the Wildcats knocked off No. 1 LSU, they lost to Florida for the 21st consecutive time.
The victory puts the defending national champions back in the Southeastern Conference title hunt despite their recent losses to Auburn and LSU. The Gators (5-2, 3-2) are now tied with South Carolina and Georgia for first in the SEC East.
"I just think this league, it's a mess right now," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. "It's competitive, and week to week, you'd better be ready to play or somebody's going to jump up and spoil it."
Kentucky (6-2, 2-2), which went to triple overtime for a 43-37 victory at home against LSU, came into the game concerned Tebow's Gators presented a bigger threat because of the sophomore's ability to run. The Wildcats held him to 78 rushing yards, but the junior's left arm proved far more problematic.
"He's one of the biggest guys we've faced," Kentucky linebacker Braxton Kelley said. "He's bigger than most fullbacks. It was kind of surprising. I thought he'd try more of a pound game."
Tebow connected on 18 of 26 passes. His previous career-high of three TDs came earlier this year in games against Troy and Western Kentucky.
"He's as competitive a human being as I've ever been around," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "He's a great leader. He gives you a weapon on offense. Someone said, 'Can he throw it?' Sure, he can throw it very well."
Florida led 21-10 at halftime, but the Wildcats made a comeback attempt behind their own Heisman candidate. Andre Woodson had his best game of the season with 415 yards and five TD passes.
"It's difficult to swallow right now, but at the same point, we're still in a really good situation," Woodson said.
At the end of the first quarter, Tebow dissected Kentucky's double-coverage of Louis Murphy, hitting him stride as he ran through the defenders and completed a 66-yard scoring play.
"It's nice when you get ahead because you know as an offense that you can control everything," Tebow said. "It gives you a lot of confidence and quiets their crowd down."
Just before halftime, Tebow showed finesse. He started toward the line, stopped, and threw a jump pass to Aaron Hernandez for a 1-yard TD.
"He works on every little part of his game like no one I've ever seen," Hernandez said. "They said he couldn't pass the ball, so he spent all summer working on his passing and now he's a great passer."
Dazzling scoring plays in the third quarter kept the Wildcats in the game.
First, Jacob Tamme caught a pass 10 yards short of the end zone, spun to avoid running out of bounds and ran it in.
Then, Dicky Lyons Jr. caught a short pass and turned it into a 50-yarder, weaving through defenders in his path to make it 31-24.
Florida answered with its longest run of the game, a 24-yard end-around that receiver Percy Harvin took in for a touchdown to put the Gators up 38-24.
"When you have great receivers, you just put it out there and make a play," Tebow said. "It's not too hard when you have guys like Percy Harvin on the field."
Kentucky cut the lead to a TD with under four minutes left as Woodson found Lyons again on a 7-yard slant and the record crowd of 71,024 at Commonwealth Stadium erupted.
Tebow iced the game by going deep, throwing a 40-yard pass to Harvin to give the Gators the ball on the 2, then running it in himself. It was the eighth straight game Tebow has scored a rushing TD.
"When you get down to one score, that's when the ulcer and the gray hairs and all that, and that's when you have to match them," Meyer said.
A week after Kentucky's offensive line allowed no sacks against Glenn Dorsey and LSU's physical defensive front, the Gators got to Woodson six times.
"A lot of our defense is based on getting pressure and being aggressive, and it really paid off today," Florida nose tackle Javier Estopinan said.
Those sacks translated into the first of several missed opportunities for Kentucky, as Lones Seiber was wide left on a 48-yard field goal attempt.
Kentucky had similar field position twice more in the first half, but coach Rich Brooks decided to go for it both times on fourth-and-long. The Wildcats converted on one and Seiber connected from 27 yards.
Kentucky hasn't beaten Florida since 1986, the third-longest current streak in the nation between major opponents who have played every year without an interruption.
"We missed too many chances, and you just can't miss scoring chances against Florida and get a win," Brooks said.
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