Louis Murphy heard all week that Florida was in big trouble without its star running back and receiver, Percy Harvin. So the senior receiver and his offensive teammates were determined to prove the doubters wrong. They knew what had to happen if the No. 2 Gators were to defeat No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. It was on them to take up the slack. Saturday, they delivered. Four different Gators scored touchdowns. Six different players were on the receiving end of Tim Tebow's passes. Six different players rushed the ball. The result was a 31-20 victory in front of 75,892 — a Georgia Dome record. And when the BCS standings are released tonight, Florida is expected to play Big 12 champion Oklahoma for the national championship on Jan. 8 at Miami's Dolphin Stadium. It will be the Gators' second appearance in the title game in three seasons, and it is the seventh SEC Championship Game victory for the Gators and the second under coach Urban Meyer.
"I guess they thought their checkers were bigger than ours, but we played hardball," Murphy said, noting the Tide opted to play man coverage on the Gator receivers. "Give credit to the offensive line. Give credit to Tebow, and the defense played a great game. The whole team, it was a whole team effort."
"We knew not one person could fill Percy's spot, so as a group we kind of came together to help win this game," said David Nelson, whose 5-yard touchdown catch gave the Gators a 17-10 lead with 2:59 left in the first half.
"That's one of the best college football games I know I've ever been a part of," Meyer said. "That was a dogfight. That was check your will and come back and play in the fourth quarter. That says a lot about our team."
The operative word being team.
Tebow and freshman Jeff Demps combined for 110 of the Gators' 142 rushing yards. The six receivers had 216 yards and three touchdowns on 14 receptions.
Florida scored on its opening drive with a 3-yard pass from Tebow to Carl Moore, a junior college transfer who entered the game with just 13 receptions and no touchdowns this season.
Florida led 17-10 at halftime but struggled in the third quarter as Alabama took a 20-17 lead. But the fourth quarter belonged to the Gators.
Demps' 2-yard run (set up by a 16-yard pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez) gave the Gators a 24-20 lead with 9:21 left. The Gators began their final scoring drive with 7:27 left, ate 4:37 off the clock and culminated it with a 5-yard pass to Riley Cooper deep in the right corner of the end zone.
"It was man-to-man coverage. They called a shallow route, and I just beat my man coverage," said Cooper, the former Clearwater Central Catholic High standout. "Tebow put it right on the money."
Tebow, who was named the game's most valuable player, was 14-of-22 for 216 yards and rushed 17 times for 57 yards. Tebow had been 0-5 when trailing in the fourth quarter.
"You really had to earn all the plays that you made," Tebow said. "(Alabama) had a great game plan. You've got to give credit to them and the players for the way they came out and played."
When it was all said and done, Meyer didn't want to speculate on playing in the national title game. But he did want to give credit to his quarterback. Asked if he believes Tebow deserves to win a second Heisman Trophy, Meyer said, "I do now."
"At the end of the day, when you evaluate what 'player' means — not just how many yards and statistics because we've seen what he can do statistically — but to manage a game against the defenses he's faced in the last two months. Four of the last six were top-10 defenses that our quarterback faced, and he put up fairly ridiculous numbers. (Saturday) wasn't ridiculous, but he managed the game and won it."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.