After two weeks of speculation about his health and if he would be able to play, Florida senior quarterback Tim Tebow entered Saturday night's game against No. 4 LSU with 12:01 on the clock to the roar of cheers and flashing camera lights from fans of both teams.
After all, the Tigers said all week they wanted to win with Tebow, who sustained a concussion Sept. 26 against Kentucky, in the game so the Gators would have no excuses. Their fans seemed to express the same sentiment.
Tebow didn't turn in his most stellar performance but held his own. And the defense rose to the occasion as No. 1 Florida defeated LSU 13-3 in front of 93,129, the largest attendance in the history of LSU's Tiger Stadium.
"We didn't execute that great and put the ball in the end zone when we should have," Tebow said. "But ... I'm very proud of our team and our offense because we played hard and we played for four quarters.
"It didn't matter what was going to happen at the end there. We just had so much confidence. We knew we're going to get a shot, and we're going to put this thing away. I'm just so proud of my team for the effort that they had."
The Gator defense, which had been criticized of late for not playing up to its potential, held the Tigers (5-1, 3-1 SEC) to 66 rushing yards on 30 attempts and 96 passing yards. It also sacked Jordan Jefferson five times and held LSU to 1-of-3 on fourth down.
"Defensively, it was one of the best efforts I've ever seen," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "To keep them in front of us was important."
With Tebow starting, the first-half game plan was clearly adjusted to limit his rushing attempts as the Gators (5-0, 3-0) took a 10-3 lead.
Tebow connected on a 24-yard touchdown with Riley Cooper with 50 seconds left before halftime to give the Gators the lead. Then the defense helped secure it. With 44 seconds remaining in the half, cornerback Joe Haden intercepted a Jefferson pass at the Florida 34.
"That was two sledgehammers just going at one another," Meyer said. "(LSU) was as talented a team as there is in the country, and I thought it might have been a high-scoring affair. But it was good football. (Linebacker) Brandon Spikes and the two corners played very well. Obviously, Tim came out and played his heart out."
Tebow was 11-of-16 for 134 yards and the touchdown and threw an interception with 4:55 remaining and the Gators just 36 yards from the end zone. He also rushed 16 times for 36 yards. He said the past two weeks have not been easy.
"It was tough because I could see the stress it put on my friends, family, teammates and just different people who were worried about me," Tebow said. "Not as far as football, but worried about me as a person and being all right and making sure everything in my head was okay.
"That was the toughest thing to deal with, putting them through that hard time. And it was frustrating because I wanted to be out there with my teammates practicing and playing."
It was clear Tebow is still recovering based on the Gators' opening drive and throughout the game as he tried to, in his own words, "play smart."
"We were somewhat conservative for the most part," Meyer said. "Somewhat. The management of the game was dependent upon how the defense played and the special teams, and I thought those two phases were tremendous."
LSU coach Les Miles agreed the defense was the star.
"I can tell you we played a great defense," Miles said.
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3389.