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STATS ARE NO MEASURE OF THE MAN

The entire team moved in one direction, and Tim Tebow walked off in another.

It was 25 minutes before kickoff Saturday night, and already it looked as if Tebow had lost his way. At the end of final warmups, the Gators came together in unison at midfield for a showdown with LSU players just a yard or so on the other side of the 50. With players gesturing and the crowd screaming, Tebow turned his back on the mock fight and walked toward the bench.

Turns out, he was not here to bluff. He was not in uniform for some false show of pride or machismo. When it came time to play, Tebow was back on the field for the University of Florida.

And so the legend grows.

Two weeks after suffering a concussion, throwing up on the sideline and spending the night in a hospital, Tebow showed up at Tiger Stadium on Saturday night as if a bruised brain was of no consequence. The toughest quarterback in the land was in no mood for head games.

Using perhaps the most conservative gameplan of Urban Meyer's five years at Florida, Tebow and the Gators methodically disposed of No.4 LSU 13-3 to extend the nation's longest winning streak to 15 games.

Now it is fair to say it was not the greatest night of Tebow's career. Not for a player with two national championship rings and a Heisman Trophy. If you want to be picky, you might argue Tebow has rarely had such mundane numbers in such a big game.

The game's real stars were everywhere else. The offensive linemen who blew open holes in the middle of the LSU defense. Or the guys on defense who have now given up two touchdowns in the season's first five games.

The truth is, Tebow played a supporting role Saturday night. For much of the first half, the Gators adjusted their offense to limit his role. Yet, in a way, this could be portrayed as a defining game in a career that has been among the best in college football history.

You see, Tebow has always been more than the sum of his statistics. His appeal has been more visceral. More emotional. He has been the picture of decorum off the field, and the embodiment of toughness on it.

Which is one of the reasons the college football world seemed obsessed with his condition in recent days. By Saturday morning, the question of whether he would be in the starting lineup seemed to generate updates by the minute.

It was as if Tebow got a concussion, and everyone else lost their minds.

There were unconfirmed reports, wild rumors, indecent signs and comical T-shirts. (My favorite: A shirt with a guy holding his middle finger aloft and asking, "Tebow, how many fingers am I holding up?")

In the end, the concussion played a minor role in the night's drama. Tebow seemed tentative early on but was running the ball more and more as the game continued. Perhaps the most intriguing storyline is how the Gators survived without leaning so heavily on Tebow.

Before Saturday night, Tebow had run or passed on about 65 percent of Florida's plays when he was in the game. Which meant there was a chance he was going to get hit on two of every three snaps. And probably more.

Unlike most quarterbacks, Tebow prefers to tuck the ball and run instead of throwing it away. He also looks for contact instead of sliding at midfield or running out of bounds on scrambles.

And that's what made Florida's gameplan so interesting in the first half. The ratio of Tebow plays was virtually opposite of Florida's first four games. Tebow's number was called less than 40 percent of the time.

Yet the plan worked for the most part. The Gators did not generate a ton of offense, but they held on to the ball for long stretches with the running backs combining for 79 yards on their first 11 carries. Florida averaged almost 10 plays per drive on its first three possessions.

It wasn't until the final minutes of the first half that Tebow began to look like his old self. After moving to the LSU 29, Tebow went up the middle on consecutive running plays to pick up a first down.

Then, with 57 seconds remaining, Tebow faked a handoff, looked left then turned right and threw a 24-yard touchdown to Riley Cooper to put Florida up 10-3.

It was one of only six passes Tebow threw in the first half but, then again, numbers have never been the best way to measure him.

For all the talk of the quarterback's head during the past two weeks, you saw his best attribute on Saturday night.

His heart.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

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