Florida quarterback Tim Tebow's face was bloodied, the entire right side of his uniform covered in mud and maroon dye from the end zone. He had just scored on a 4-yard run in the second quarter and was stalking the sideline, waving his arms and ordering Florida fans at Doak Campbell Stadium to make some noise. It didn't matter that the Gators were ahead by 15 at the time. Tebow meant business. So did the rest of the Gators. Saying all week they were approaching their game against archrival Florida State as a serious business mission, the Gators avoided a upset with a 45-15 victory on Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 82,237.
No. 2 Florida (11-1) will play No. 1 Alabama (12-0) on Saturday in the SEC championship game in Atlanta with a trip to the BCS title game likely on the line.
"I'm very appreciative of the efforts of our players," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "Very talented opponent, but that's as hard as we've played. … That's as proud as I've ever been of a football team.
"Hell of a football team is what I saw. The focus and effort was phenomenal."
It was the largest margin of victory for Florida in Tallahassee and the most points scored by the Gators at Doak Campbell, eclipsing a 42-13 win in 1972, four years before Bobby Bowden took over the Seminoles program. It was a game that was played, at times, through a torrential downpour that soaked the field before the game.
For No. 23 Florida State (8-4), the day was doubly disappointing.
With Boston College's victory over Maryland, the Seminoles lost out on a chance to play in the ACC title game at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday. As a result, the Seminoles are likely headed to the Gator Bowl or Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
But none of that mattered to Bowden.
"You'd like to have heard some good news, but the best good news would have been to beat Florida," he said. "You could have had that other one (reaching the ACC championship game) if you had let us beat Florida. But we couldn't get either one of them accomplished."
As it had the previous seven games, the Gators got out to an early lead although the Seminoles were the first team to score on them in the first quarter since LSU on Oct. 11.
FSU answered the Gators' first three touchdowns with field goals of 37, 36 and 32 yards by senior Graham Gano. But the inability to score touchdowns proved costly.
When tailback Jermaine Thomas scored on a 4-yard run with 7:43 remaining in the third quarter, it ended a touchdown drought against the Gators that dated to early in the fourth quarter of the 2006 game.
The Gators held FSU to 242 yards of offense and had three interceptions. Defensive coordinator Charlie Strong said the Gators' plan was to stop quarterback Christian Ponder, whom they considered a dangerous passer.
Florida gained more than 500 yards of offense (502) for the third consecutive game and with 317 rushing yards exceeded 300 for the third consecutive game.
"The last quarter of the game, just being on the sideline, being able to look around and see what was happening, it was a very enjoyable time," said Tebow, who was 12-of-21 for 185 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 80 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
"Knowing what we have ahead and how we probably control our own destiny with what we want, we're very excited about that. And we're looking forward to a great game against Alabama."
For three weeks, the Gators have known their showdown with Alabama was coming but couldn't look ahead. Saturday night, all thoughts were on the Tide.
"Absolutely," junior linebacker Brandon Spikes said when asked if it was nice to finally be able to talk about the game. "It was hard to not look forward after we clinched the SEC.
"But now it's here. Guys are looking forward, and we're ready to go to work, ready to go beat 'Bama."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.