Grading the Florida vs. Cincinnati game

By Adam Silverstein
January 3, 2010

Each week following a Florida Gators game, ONLY GATORS Get Out Alive grades the team position-by-position based on each unit’s performance. This week, we look at how the Gators fared against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the final game of their season, the 2010 Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, LA.

When the best player in school history plays the best game of his career in the final game of his career, it is tough not to give him an “A+” grade. And that is exactly what senior quarterback Tim Tebow has earned – not just for his outstanding performance Friday evening but for his career in the Orange and Blue. Pick your poison: was it the Lowe’s Senior CLASS award he was given before the game, the Sugar Bowl record 12 consecutive completions, the career-long 80-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Riley Cooper, the Sugar Bowl and BCS bowl game record 533 yards of total offense, the Sugar Bowl/BCS record 482 passing yards, the 31 completions which set a new Sugar Bowl record, the Sugar Bowl high four touchdowns or the 88.6 completion percentage that set a BCS record? The answer, of course, is “all of the above.”

Tebow was once again the leading ball carrier for the Gators with 14 touches for 51 yards and a touchdown, but both redshirt junior Emmanuel Moody and redshirt sophomore Chris Rainey came up big throughout the game. Moody rushed eight times for only 14 yards but scored two touchdowns on the ground (he also had four receptions for 19 yards) while Rainey caught four passes for 71 yards and ran four times for 27 yards and a touchdown. Freshman Mike Gillislee cleaned up at the end of the fourth quarter and took a ball 52 yards for a final line of five carries for 78 yards. Sophomore Jeff Demps, the true starter, left the game after he dislocated his elbow on his third rush of the game. Though the attempts and yards were not there, three rushing touchdowns brought this unit up a half-grade.

Read the rest of Florida’s grades from the Sugar Bowl after the jump…

Cooper’s 80-yard touchdown was just the highlight of his seven receptions for 181 yards performance. Redshirt sophomore Deonte Thompson added five catches for 63 yards and a touchdown while both of senior David Nelson catches were for first downs (37 yards). This was, overall, the best that Florida’s receiving unit has played all season.

Junior Aaron Hernandez is an NFL tight end in the making and the way he played on Friday proved just that. Sure, Hernandez caught nine passes for 111 yards and a touchdown, but it was what he did after the catch that was truly special. Spinning, juking, stiff-arming and simply dragging Bearcats defenders all over the field, Hernandez proved that he is a playmaker and not only a reliable pass catcher.

Cincinnati’s defense achieved nine tackles for loss against the Gators, including two sacks of Tebow (one of which was self-inflicted). Many of those TFL came against Moody, who was consistently being stopped behind the line of scrimmage. Though the offensive line played well, most of Tebow’s impressive throws came quickly after the snap as the receivers were able to get open off of the line. In other words, he didn’t utilize much protection; though when he did need it, it was not always there.

Looking for redemption after a DUI arrest caused him to be suspended from the 2009 SEC Championship, junior defensive end Carlos Dunlap was after Bearcats QB Tony Pike all night, sacking him twice. Fellow junior DE Justin Trattou added a sack of his own, and the unit as a whole was pressuring Pike throughout the game. Kudos are deserved for a big bounce back performance not only for Dunlap but for the whole unit after getting worked by the Alabama Crimson Tide last month.

Senior Brandon Spikes led the team with six tackles, as did junior Brandon Hicks. However, Hicks also drew four early penalties (two personal fouls) that extended Cincinnati drives. Senior Dustin Doe and redshirt senior Ryan Stamper played their hearts out as well, but the defensive line played so well that they did not have many opportunities to make impact plays. Costly penalties from Hicks held the overall unit back a bit, but the veteran group deserves a lot of credit for how they played all game.

If you did not know it before the game, you know realize that junior cornerback Joe Haden is the absolute best at his position in the country. With perhaps the best pass break-up of his season (maybe even his career), Haden also led the team with six tackles and shut down yet another star wide receiver in Mardy Gilyard. Gilyard’s 41 yards came mostly on slant passes taking him away from Haden. Junior safeties Major Wright and Ahmad Black both attacked the ball and hit hard, and sophomore CB Janoris Jenkins played very well even with a hip injury coming into the game. Three late receiving touchdowns by the Bearcats, some against the second string, unfortunately brought this unit down from the perfection they were in the process of achieving.

Senior kick returner Brandon James was out for the game, but Florida returned the ball perfectly well in his stead. Coverage-wise, Gilyard set a Sugar Bowl record for kickoff return yardage, mostly because he had so many chances. Sophomore kicker Caleb Sturgis missed an early field goal, but he made his first one, and junior punter Chas Henry‘s sole punt was solid.

It is tough to blame head coach Urban Meyer for making the announcements he did the weekend before the game. The school may have been worried that the news would going to get out from a second-hand source and distract the team, or it may have been something weighing on him that he had to get off of his chest. Couple Meyer’s decision with late rumors of CB coach Vance Bedford departing with Louisville Cardinals head coach Charlie Strong and for once the distractions were provided by the coaching staff rather than the players. Even so, Meyer, Strong, offensive coordinator Steve Addazio and their assistants did a superb job in preparing the Gators for this game. Though Strong took another job, he kept his word and came back to coach a defense was on-point and ready to play with passion. Addazio and QB coach Scot Loeffler opened up the passing game for Tebow, spreading the ball around the field and keeping Cincinnati guessing. The players were the ones who had to execute the plays, but you have to give it up for the game planning by the coaching staff over the last month.

Starting out the 2009 season with the singular goal to go undefeated in the regular season, win the SEC Championship and play for the BCS National Championship in Pasadena, CA, Florida – simply put – fell short. A loss to the Crimson Tide left the Gators shaky and unsure of themselves. However, unlike Alabama last year, Florida did not carry their baggage into the Sugar Bowl. Instead, the Gators took out their frustration on the Bearcats to the tune of an early 23-0 lead and eventual 51-24 victory. Florida’s performance, top-to-bottom, was one of the best they have put together in recent memory against any opponent. The game had even greater significance as it was the final appearance for the winningest senior class in SEC history (48-7) and could possibly have been Meyer’s last as a head coach. It was truly a dominating overall performance by the Gators in every sense of the word.

One Comment

  1. Mr2Bits says:

    Phenomenal day for Tebow and company. Think Tebow really left his mark and couldn’t have asked for a better connecting flight to the NFL.

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