GAINESVILLE — What Dan Mullen wants most this week for Florida quarterback Tim Tebow is rest and a little peace of mind.
With six weeks completed, and Florida getting its final bye week, the UF offensive coordinator acknowledged that maybe, just maybe, the pressure has been weighing heavily on Tebow.
The pressure of being the returning Heisman Trophy winner. The pressure of trying to lead a team with high expectations. The pressure of just being Tim Tebow.
"Tim has been in a mode that he had to do so much," Mullen said. "… He's really learned the offense, but he's spent so much time analyzing things, we kind of told him, 'Hey, I think you're actually thinking too much on the field. Relax. Forget some of the stuff you learned and just go be Tim Tebow.' … He lives to a standard he's built for himself."
And one everyone else has built for him. The Gators are 5-1, but the recurring question has been, "What's wrong with Tebow?"
Tebow is 93-of-149 for 1,235 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has a 152.85 passing efficiency (tops in the SEC) and is averaging 205.8 passing yards per game.
His numbers aren't as spectacular as last season, but the Gators insist the junior is playing exactly as they need him. But, he may have become so focused that he lost the carefree, fist-pumping, daring style that made him special last season. So Mullen is hoping that Tebow's performance in Saturday's 30-point win over LSU (14-of-21, 210 yards, two TDs) might help Tebow realize he can just be himself — and still win.
"People do expect Tim to do so much," Mullen said. "And you know what? Tim does a tremendous job. There's no bigger competitor than Tim Tebow. And if he struggles, he wants to try harder and harder. … So I think it's great for him to get this performance under his belt, just relax and be the leader, be the energizing Tim Tebow that we need him to be.
"I hope he just relaxes right now and finally, that the expectations of everybody coming into this season as the returning Heisman Trophy winner, are put it aside. You're our leader, lead us and let's win the SEC East."
Tebow said he and his teammates have tried to block out the negative talk, but in an odd way, it may have helped them Saturday.
"We didn't hear it at all," Tebow said sarcastically about the criticism. "I think you try not to listen to stuff everybody says. But I think if you can use that as a good thing, then do (listen). I think we used the criticism."
SPIKES HONORED: Junior LB Brandon Spikes was named the SEC defensive player of the week on Monday. Spikes had five tackles and a career-high two interceptions, including one he returned 52 yards for a touchdown against LSU. He has a team-high 46 tackles.
FINALLY RUNNING: Over the past two weeks, the Gators have shown signs of the running game the coaching staff promised this season. But it's not Kestahn Moore and Emmanuel Moody leading the way. Instead, it's freshman Jeff Demps and redshirt freshman Chris Rainey, who combined with junior WR/RB Percy Harvin make the rushing attack a threat. Demps has four rushing TDs, all for more than 30 yards. He gained 129 against Arkansas and 103 against LSU, the first time since Earnest Graham in 1999 a UF freshman gained more than 100 yards in consecutive games.
"It's great because now teams have to respect our running game," Harvin said. "Demps and Rainey, they are kind of small, so linebackers sometimes can't see them when they come shooting out. If you give those guys a step, it's lights out."
UF-UK EARLY GAME: The Oct. 25 home game against Kentucky will begin at 12:30 p.m. (Ch. 38).
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.