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Florida Gators unbeaten, but not looking unbeatable

GAINESVILLE — His eyes were closed, and he was holding hands with backup quarterback John Brantley on the sideline. This was how Tim Tebow chose to wait out the final seconds of a game against Arkansas. Praying silently, and hoping for happily ever after.

As it turns out, Gator kicker Caleb Sturgis converted a 27-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining and the roar of the crowd let Tebow know it was safe to face the world again as the sun went down Saturday on Florida Field.

But what about the days still to come? What about Mississippi State in Starkville on Saturday? What about Georgia in Jacksonville on Halloween? Good heavens, what if it comes down to Steve Spurrier in South Carolina in November?

At 16 games and counting, the Gators are riding the longest winning streak in the nation, and the longest this football program has ever known. But after Saturday's close call, the rest of the season no longer looks like such a sure bet.

A few days ago, a Florida fan could look at a schedule and see all the way to December. Now it seems there's danger on every corner.

"There's an unsatisfied feeling, even though we won this game," receiver David Nelson said. "There's definitely a feeling that we need to accomplish so much more. The guys already are excited about showing up at practice (today)."

It's not just that Florida was a 25-point favorite and had to play from behind most of the day against Arkansas. It's the accumulation of tight games, and bruised bodies. It's weaknesses that are suspected, and others that are confirmed.

And so now you begin to wonder about assumptions you have previously made.

What if it wasn't Monte Kiffin's defensive scheme that kept the score close against Tennessee? What if it wasn't the lingering effects of Tebow's concussion that made the LSU game so tight? What if Saturday's game against Arkansas wasn't just a matter of being sloppy?

There's no doubt this is a good football team, but what if it isn't as good as you once assumed?

You knew UF was lacking at receiver. Now you have to wonder about the offensive line, too.

This is, by far, the weakest offense the Gators have had during the Tebow era. After averaging 38.125 and 44.875 points per game in 2007 and '08 in the SEC regular season, the Gators have put up an average of 25 points in four league games this year.

It could be because receivers Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy have moved on to the NFL. It could be because offensive coordinator Dan Mullen moved on to become the head coach at Mississippi State. It could just be conservative playcalling for a team winning with defense.

More than likely, it is a combination of all of those things. The question is whether the offense is going to be enough.

"Obviously, statistically, we're not on the same planet as we were last year," coach Urban Meyer said. "I'm not pleased with where we're at (offensively). But I understand the game, and I understand what we have to do to get better."

Today, they will lose some points in the polls and a few fans are sure to grumble. This is to be expected, and it is to be ignored. The No. 1 ranking means zip right now. Trust me, an SEC team is not going to be shut out of the national championship game if it goes undefeated.

It's the undefeated part that UF needs to focus on today.

You can argue that Arkansas was a tougher team than advertised, and you can point out that the Razorbacks beat a ranked Auburn team last week. But it's hard to rationalize Florida's offense having so much trouble at home on Saturday.

Arkansas was 86th in the nation in scoring defense, 95th in total defense and 100th in pass defense. And somehow this team sacked Tebow six times, and shut down Florida's wideouts until Riley Cooper came through with three clutch catches on the winning drive.

Is this how it's going to be the rest of the season? Quarterback scrambles and defensive stands? Will Florida have to depend on Tebow, and a prayer?

"If he sold his soul, the rest of the team would too," left tackle Carl Johnson said. "We follow him."

That's not going to be necessary, but the point is understood.

The Gators had to come this close to losing on Saturday to make them realize how much winning is still to be done.

Florida Gators unbeaten, but not looking unbeatable 10/18/09 [Last modified: Sunday, October 18, 2009 12:07am]
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