Coming of a week filled with seemingly endless questions and distractions, the No. 5 Florida Gators (13-1) eased tensions and erased any doubts (at least temporarily) with a dominating 51-24 victory over the No. 3 Cincinnati Bearcats (12-1) in the 2010 Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome.
In the final game of his college career, Gators senior quarterback Tim Tebow went 31-of-35 for a career-high 482 yards passing and three touchdowns through the air. He also carried the ball 14 times for 51 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Completing his first twelve passes in what was arguably the best performance of his entire career, Tebow finished with 533 total yards – more than anyone in both BCS and Sugar Bowl history. Tebow’s three touchdown passes went to senior wide receiver Riley Cooper, junior tight end Aaron Hernandez and redshirt sophomore WR Deonte Thompson.
“It was incredible,” Tebow said of his third BCS bowl game victory. “Just a great game. It was exactly how you want to go out with these seniors and these coaches in your last game and your last time together. It just really doesn’t get any better than this.”
Cooper caught seven passes for a career-high 181 yards, Hernandez brought in nine balls for 111 yards and Thompson snagged five for 63 yards. Redshirt sophomore running back Chris Rainey caught four passes for 71 yards; he also rushed four times for 27 yards and a touchdown. Redshirt junior transfer RB Emmanuel Moody had the first two touchdown game of his career though freshman RB Mike Gillislee ended up as the team’s leading rusher (79 yards) after taking a hand-off for 52 yards in the fourth quarter.
Defensively, junior cornerback Joe Haden once again shut down his assignment, allowing Bearcats senior wide receiver Mardy Gilyard to gain only 41 yards. Florida’s pass rush and blitzing was on-point all night, holding Cincinnati senior QB Tony Pike to 27-of-45 passing for 170 yards. Pike, however, completed three touchdown passes after the game was out of hand. Junior defensive end Carlos Dunlap earned two of the team’s three sacks on Pike, the secondary had numerous interception opportunities and senior linebacker Brandon Spikes was flying around the ball all evening.
The Gators outgained the Bearcats 660-to-246 in total yardage, though the time of possession battle was close to even because Florida scored quickly. The Gators’ 660 yards was also a Sugar Bowl record. With the win, Florida became the first school in Football Bowl Subdivision history to win 13 games in consecutive seasons.
Going into the game, the Gators were without senior kick returner Brandon James (foot), redshirt junior LB A.J. Jones (knee) and redshirt junior defensive tackle Terron Sanders (hip), though additional injuries piled up before and during the game. Junior center Maurkice Pouncey spent five hours in the hospital earlier in the day passing a kidney stone and left the game in the second half to pass another. Sophomore RB Jeff Demps dislocated his elbow early on and redshirt junior left guard Carl Johnson hurt his shoulder. Sophomore CB Janoris Jenkins and redshirt senior LB Ryan Stamper were both down on the field for a while but would return to action.
Gators head coach Urban Meyer, who resigned on Saturday before changing his mind and deciding to take a leave of absence instead on Sunday, said at the trophy presentation after the game that he hoped to return to the sidelines for the 2010 season. “I plan on being the coach of the Gators,” Meyer said. On Tebow, Meyer said he “will go down as one of the great players, if not the greatest player, in college football [history].” Tebow won the game’s Most Outstanding Player Award, thanking the coaches, his teammates and Gator Nation while accepting it on the podium. He took a moment to specifically thank Meyer for making him a Gator, telling him that he loved him and hugging him.