Rebels stun Gators

Published 12:12 am Sunday, September 28, 2008


AP Sports Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) —Tim Tebow stood at the podium with his arms folded, took several deep breaths and then did something he’s never done before, something he’s never had to do.

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He apologized after a football game. For his poor passes. For his costly fumble. For his failed fourth-down run. He took all the blame for this one — even though Jevan Snead and Mississippi deserved plenty of credit.

Snead threw two touchdown passes, ran for another score and led the Rebels to a 31-30 upset of No. 4 Florida on Saturday. It gave coach Houston Nutt a signature win in his fourth game at Ole Miss and put Florida in a hole with several tough Southeastern Conference games remaining.

The Gators (3-1, 1-1 SEC) turned the ball over three times, gave up a long pass play late and had some questionable play-calling throughout. But Tebow put it all on his shoulders.

“I’m sorry. I’m extremely sorry,” he said. “We were hoping for an undefeated season. That was my goal, something Florida’s never done here. But 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 this season and you’ll never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of this season, and you’ll never see a team play harder than we will the rest of this season.”

Florida lost four games last season with Tebow as the starter, mostly because of a poor defense. This one was much different.

Tebow fumbled on Florida’s second possession of the third quarter. Snead, the former Florida recruit who backed out of his commitment when he learned the Gators were going after Tebow, dumped a screen pass to Cordera Eason on third-and-10 that went for an 18-yard touchdown. It tied the game at 17.

Tebow was sacked three times, all the result of holding the ball too long in the pocket. He also overthrew four receivers deep, including two on consecutive plays on the final drive.

Maybe even more glaring was his final run.

Trailing 31-30 with about 40 seconds to play and facing fourth down and about 2 feet at the Ole Miss 32, the Gators called on Tebow to pick up the first down. Just about everyone at The Swamp — all 90,106 in attendance — knew Tebow was getting the ball. It was exactly what he wanted, too.

But he got hit in the backfield and never even got back to the line of scrimmage.

“I thought we’d get it,” Tebow said. “I thought I’d will myself to the first down. We just didn’t do it.”

Instead, Snead took a couple of knees, running out the clock and setting off a raucous celebration in and around the small section of Ole Miss fans who made the trip.

“We can build on this,” said Nutt, still drenched from the water bucket dumped on his head.

The Gators could have attempted a 49-yard field goal, which would have won the game, but Meyer opted to keep the ball in the hands of his most trusted player.

It backfired.

Tebow’s eyes were red, his voice crackling at times, and teammates said they had never seen him so emotional after a loss.

“I want it to stay in our hearts and keep hurting,” Tebow said. “This will motivate me personally and I believe everybody else, the coaches and the rest of the players, to never let something like this happen again, especially when we feel we’re better than a team and don’t play up to our ability.”

Tebow was 24-of-38 passing for 319 yards. He ran 15 times for 7 yards and two scores, a far cry from the 166 yards he had on the ground in Oxford last season.

The Rebels (3-2, 1-1) weren’t going to let Tebow beat them. They blitzed on nearly every down and played zone coverage, not allowing anything deep.

Florida struggled on offense much like it has all season, and the defense wasn’t as good.

Dexter McCluster ran for 60 yards and a touchdown and had a 40-yarder from the “Wild Hog” formation made famous by Darren McFadden under Nutt at Arkansas.

Snead was 9-of-20 passing for 185 yards, not great numbers, but he made plays when the Rebels needed them. His biggest was an 86-yard touchdown pass to Shay Hodge that put the Rebels ahead 31-24 with 5:26 to play.

“This will be a turning point of our season,” Snead said.

Tebow brought the Gators back, driving them 78 yards in about 2 minutes, but the game-tying extra point was blocked by defensive lineman Kentrell Lockett. Meyer argued that Lockett illegally jumped over the offensive line, but the officials did not agree.

“When I crossed the line, I made up my mind I was going to get the block,” Lockett said.

Florida forced a punt and had one more chance, but Tebow couldn’t get it done.

He apologized, but Florida’s biggest problem was three turnovers and a miserable third quarter that might go down as the worst in the Meyer era.

Leading 17-7, Harvin fumbled on the second play of the third. Ole Miss turned it into a field goal. Tebow fumbled on the next play. Ole Miss turned it into a touchdown.

It got worse for the Gators, too.

McCluster busted through the line and scored to make it 24-17. Tebow led the Gators back for a game-tying touchdown, but then Hodge got loose in the secondary.

“It’s awful. Bad, bad stuff,” Meyer said. “We’ll find out what kind of team we are.”