Tim Tebow and Steve Addazio
It is a place where the Gators have never been at this stage in the season...No. 1, and staying there since the start of the season. The goal is to get to the end unscathed; they don't have to look pretty doing it, just do it. It takes a toll physically, but more so emotionally as you want to erase any warts you might have in your game to ensure comfort in the chance to win out.
Being No. 1, and undefeated isn't enough for some. They want games like the Gators had Saturday night against Georgia, a 41-17 knock out blow, and they want them every week.
Gator offensive coordinator Steve Addazio has seen the chatter and negativity. He knows what fans and media are saying; he also knows what he sees on film. Somewhere there is a happy medium.
“There were a lot of opinions, but at the end of the day you try and have your best players make plays,” Addazio said in reference to a big time reliance on four or five offensive players on offense that seem to get the bulk of the carries. “We have some war daddies. Yet, we have to keep balance. It is a good problem but a constant struggle.”
Gator fans and the media have voiced their opinions and concerns in the last few weeks going through the SEC season. The offense the Gators are displaying in the SEC hasn't been one that looks much like the Gator offense of a year ago and that helped propel them to a national championship.
The issue for most is that Florida returned most of their team that did win it all a year ago. Seemingly, there shouldn't be much difference in the two offenses.
For Addazio, a great deal of it is on the expectations, especially of them being tabbed the No. 1 team in college football and trying to transverse the schedule as the top team in America.
“Just remember in this position we are in unchartered waters,” Addazio said. “We get everyone's best shot. People play harder and it's a different deal. What do we compare it to?”
The staff continues to make subtle changes in the offense and maybe some that are not so subtle. In the mean time, they see first hand when watching film, that they aren't far off from what they want and deed to accomplish to get better.
“You have ebbs and flows and (just need to) steady the boat,” he said. “You have to have faith in what you are doing and trust in each other. We have that on this football team that is special and cool. That is what you saw when we had to come back and beat Arkansas, it wasn't our finest hour, we turned the ball over five times. But, we had the resolve to come back and win that game. That is in this team and we are constantly working at developing that and reinforcing that.”
It isn't easy on a team of more than 100 players, but it is the staff's job to make it all work.
“Every season is different, every group of guys is different, every scenario is different,” he said. “You just have to keep your nose to what you are doing and do your job. It is all n educational process. I know everyone thinks it is easy, but it is difficult.”
As for Addazio, he understands the criticism and it is part of the job he decided to take on. His main goal is making sure his players aren't worried about it and making sure they are ready every week.
“That is part of the job, just way it is,” he said. “What you worry about is making sure your players in great situations and making sure they are playing at a high level, and that is what it is.”
One of the things the offense seemed to do on Saturday is take some of the pressure off of quarterback Tim Tebow to perform. They handed the ball off quickly, threw it quickly and basically took much of the hesitation and decision making away letting him rely on teammates. It isn't a knock on Tebow that he can't make decisions, but more an answer to his issue to want to put it all on his own shoulders.
Tebow was taking it to heart, all the problems that fans and media were talking about the offense.
“I thought he played with great resolve and confidence,” Addazio said after the game about Tebow. “I thought the team kind of cut it loose. They had all this nonsense coming at them and we just had to go play. It was an inordinate amount of criticism. Just go play and have some fun. We are 18-0 and 8-0.”
The last two numbers kind of put it in perspective with all of the negative talk around. The goal is to win every game, not win every game by 30 or more. Yet Tebow has really put a lot on his own shoulders and said as much after the game.
“I think a little bit,” Tebow said about the pressure to perform getting to him. “It is a bit of my nature as a very emotional and passionate player. I think I take it on myself with criticism of Coach Addazio, of the offensive line, of the receivers...I think a lot of that can be changed by how I play too. I think this game started us in the right direction.”
“I think it was a hard week because we were frustrated. We know we can play a lot better and we showed that today. We weren't living up to our potential and executing as well as we could have been. We can elevate our game and I think we showed that today.”
It was a game that saw him score four touchdowns, and most would say he is still putting it on himself. But, this time he and the offense used many more teammates to get into position to score those touchdowns; it looked a lot different than what we have seen in SEC play so far this year.
“It was special and feels good...to go out there and execute,” Tebow said. To go out there and finish in the red zone. We still have work to do and in the second half should have probably punched it in a few more times, but we did do a good job of holding on to the ball and no turnovers today and executing for the most part and running the clock for the most part in the second half.”
The offense quick hit Georgia left and right from the very beginning, then when just outside the red zone they took shots at the end zone, capitalizing with touchdown passes of 22 and 26 yards to Riley Cooper. Tebow noted that the plan was set up nicely from the beginning.
“We wanted to come out here and take some shots and throw the ball around a little bit,” Tebow said. “We had a lot of success with it. There were some play action fakes and getting outside, guys made plays. The receivers stepped up and made huge catches the whole game and I am really proud of them. That was a very good front we went against and our line did a very good job of protecting me all night.”
The game plan started early in the week when head coach urban Meyer started trying to deflect the heat and working on some things to take the heat off. Meyer culminated it with a speech on Friday night before the game that must have been one to remember. Meyer's point was to remember what this particular rivalry game meant to everyone.
“He did a great job from handling the frustrations from last week and dealing with us in preparation for the game,” Tebow said of Meyer. “It wasn't just him, it was Addazio and Strong and the position coaches, they did a great job too. Everyone knows what this game means and the rivalry in it.”
Once the emotion was settled down before the game. The game plan was enacted and the Gators started off in the first half smoking, scoring on four of five possessions in the half including three touchdowns and a 56-yard field goal. The last touchdown being a 23 yard run by Tebow against a defense that seemed to open up for him because of the Gators' use of the outside receivers and running game.
Tebow enjoyed the run more for the importance in the game situation than because it was for 23 yards.
“I don't know if it was the yardage of the run, but the magnitude of the run,” he said. “Only being up seven and going into the half and trying to do a two-minute drill to get down there. It was third and three and it looked like nothing was there and I went outside. Then I saw the backer scrape over the top and so I cut inside, then Hernandez and Mike Pouncey kicked him outside and I was able to pretty much run scot-free into the end zone.”
The run broke Herschel Walker's record for most rushing touchdowns scored in the SEC. The record was nothing compared to punching that ball in from the red zone.
“I don't think it was a relief,” Tebow said of breaking the record. “It was not running through my mind at all during the week or during the game at all. It was a great record and very humbling, but I cared more about scoring in the red zone.”
Tebow talked about why this game went so well for him and the offense as compared to others they have played in the SEC.
“I think overall managing and decision making and also finding ways to finish and put it in the red zone,” he answered as to why this game was special. “We need to make plays when we get it down there. We have been very successful when we drive the ball; we just need to get it in there. We just focused (all week) on how we would finish and put it in the end zone. We were focused on what they were going to give us and how we were going to take advantage of that.”
Tebow was also happy to see a fellow teammate shine on the other side of the ball. Senior linebacker Brandon Spikes scored the last points of the game on an interception returned for a touchdown.
Spikes came to UF back in 2006 with Tebow. The two have gone through a lot together both good and bad. The tough climate and pressure of being the No. 1 team evidently got to the two last week and there were some heavy comments shared back and forth between them. It is quite evident that Tebow has a great deal of respect for Spikes and what he means to the team as well.
“That was sweet to see him put a nail in their coffin,” Tebow said of the snatch and score. “Especially with what he has been going through this year too. For him to finish off the Georgia rivalry like that...with all his injuries. He is so competitive and wants to be out there all the time and hasn't been able to. I am proud of him because of the patience and leadership he has shown and wait to get back and then played great today.”
Tebow talked about everything the two have been through.
“It is something that is special. All those games, and victories and all the frustrations that have grown us together so much and made our relationship that much stronger.”
Tebow could write a Tome on what he has seen and done in college football. Is there any doubt why they put as much on his shoulders as they think he can handle? The pressure is immense, and so everyone is learning that a little less pressure can go a long way. That includes all the nonsense from the outside.