(Saturday, November 8th)
Final Score: (4) Florida 42, Vanderbilt 14
Nashville, TN (Sports Network) - Tim Tebow threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more as No. 4 Florida ripped Vanderbilt 42-14 to clinch a spot in the SEC championship game with Alabama, and keep its national title hopes alive.
The top-ranked and unbeaten Crimson Tide edged LSU, 27-21, in overtime on Saturday to clinch the SEC West division. Florida (8-1, 6-1 SEC) ran off with its fifth straight blowout win to take the East division, and with No. 3 Penn State's 24-23 loss to Iowa on Saturday, the Gators can now see a clear path to the BCS title game.
"Great win," said Gators head coach Urban Meyer. "I was really impressed with the way that we jumped out early. It was a product of a very good defense and very good special teams. If we play like that and the offensive line blocks for the quarterback then we're great. The attention to detail and the fact that we represent the eastern side of the SEC as a champion is a great accomplishment for our players."
Tebow completed 12-of-17 passes for 171 yards, and rushed for a season-high 88 yards on 11 carries for Florida, which has games left against South Carolina, Citadel, and No. 24 Florida State before a date with Alabama on December 6 in the Georgia Dome. Win out, and the Gators will likely find themselves in the BCS title game for the second time in three years.
Chris Nickson completed 7-of-14 passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns after coming on in relief for Vanderbilt (5-4, 3-3), which has dropped four straight after a 5-0 start. Starting quarterback Mackenzi Adams completed 5-of-8 passes for 47 yards and an interception for the Commodores, who have lost 18 straight to the Gators.
Vanderbilt was rested, coming off an open date after a disappointing 10-7 loss to Duke on October 25, while Florida was coming off a big 49-10 win over rival Georgia. The Gators looked like the team that had a week off, however, as they stormed out of the gates and stomped out any hopes of an upset by jumping to a 35-0 halftime lead.
"They executed really well, but they have some outstanding athletes and it's hard to match up," said Commodores head coach Bobby Johnson of Florida's offense. "We had six defensive backs in the game and we still had trouble matching up on pass plays. They have quality receivers for every play."
Florida scored on its first four possessions to take control. Carlos Dunlap partially blocked a punt, setting the Gators up at their own 40. Nine plays later Tebow hit Louis Murphy for a 12-yard touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead with 8:49 left in the first.
Tebow and the Gators needed only four plays to move 58 yards on their next possession, and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner rumbled 26 yards for the score and a 14-0 lead with 4:50 remaining.
Adams was picked off by Ahmad Black at the Vandy 32 later in the first, and three plays after that Tebow was back in the end zone, this time after an eight-yard run. The score gave Florida a 21-0 lead with 1:46 to play in the first.
Dunlap's second blocked punt of the game gave Florida the ball at the Vandy 24, setting up Tebow's 11-yard TD pass to Riley Cooper, and a 28-0 Gators lead with 12:01 remaining in the half.
Percy Harvin appeared to break the plane on a one-yard run for a score later in the quarter, but the ball came out well after he was down. The officials mistakenly ruled it a fumble and gave Vandy possession, but even a horrible call couldn't stand in the way of the Gators. Their defense held, and Tebow hit a wide open David Nelson for a 41-yard TD pass with eight seconds left in the half as Florida took a 35-0 lead into the break.
"It was a pretty good first half," said Tebow. "We came out and executed early and our defense came up with some big stops. We were able to manage our offensive drives well and we were able to put some points on the board so overall I think we had a good half."
Harvin added a one-yard scoring run in the third quarter, and Nickson connected with Jamie Graham and Sean Walker for touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters, respectively.
Florida has outscored opponents 80-0 in the first quarter over the last five games. The Gators scored more points on Vanderbilt in the first 18 minutes of the game (28) than Vanderbilt had allowed in any game this season...Harvin had three catches for 32 yards and nine rushes for 60 yards and a score for Florida...With his two rushing touchdowns, Tebow tied Darren McFadden (Arkansas) and Shaun Alexander (Alabama) for sixth on the SEC career rushing TD chart with 41.
11/09 01:10:27 ET