Nov. 8, 2008
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All Access (Free): Coach Johnson's Press Conference
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Audio: Kevin Ingram's Interview with Nickson
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Florida Gators spent a couple minutes with their fans in a mini-celebration Saturday night at Vanderbilt Stadium.
The big party? It can wait. The Gators will get their shot at No. 1 Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship on Dec. 6 in Atlanta.
Tim Tebow threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more, and the No. 5 Gators defeated Vanderbilt 42-14 in clinching the SEC Eastern Division title for the second time in three years. This ensures their ninth appearance in the SEC title game, and Florida is 3-2 in that game against Alabama.
Florida coach Urban Meyer praised his team for a great win and how they jumped on Vanderbilt early.
"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," Meyer said.
The Gators (8-1, 6-1) answered the question of whether they would have a letdown coming off their emotional 49-10 win over Georgia by scoring on each of their first four possessions, Ahmad Black intercepted a pass and Carlos Dunlap got his hand on two punts in building a 28-0 lead.
And that was just within the first 18 minutes.
"Making it to Atlanta for the SEC championship was one of our goals at the beginning of the season, but our goal is to take care of business every Saturday," Tebow said.
The national title is still in Florida's plans, too. To have a shot to get there, the Gators need to keep winning and arrive in Atlanta with an 11-1 record.
These teams played at night for the first time since 1982 largely because Vanderbilt had a chance to force a tie atop the SEC East by beating the Gators. But the Commodores (5-4, 3-3) instead lost their fourth straight in their bid to become bowl eligible for the first time since 1982. They now have lost 18 straight in this series.
"We played a really outstanding football team tonight," VU coach Bobby Johnson said. "Their speed is really impressive ... That's no way to compete in one of these games."
The Commodores had been winning with opportunistic defense and hadn't allowed an opponent to score more than 24 points in a game this season. That was lost in the opening minutes of the second quarter, and they gave up 330 yards in the first half alone.
"I don't know what else we could have done to play much better than that," Florida receiver Louis Murphy said.
A defense that led the SEC in sacks got close to Tebow but couldn't stop the quarterback who looks very capable of winning a second Heisman Trophy. He finished with 88 yards rushing and threw for 171 yards playing less than six minutes into the third quarter before heading to the bench.
Tebow completed his first five passes for 66 yards with a TD and topped his season-high in rushing in a game with 57 yards on six carries in the first quarter. He tossed TD passes to Murphy, Riley Cooper and David Nelson while scoring himself on runs of 26 and 8 yards. He sidestepped defenders, then tossed a 41-yard TD pass to a wide-open Nelson for a 35-0 halftime lead.
"He doesn't get flustered even though he's getting pressured, people around his ankles, and we just couldn't tackle him," Johnson said of Tebow. "He comes out of it and makes big plays, looks like he's going to be sacked and they throw a touchdown. I think he's a really outstanding player."
Florida wasn't completely perfect. VU linebacker Chris Marve stripped Percy Harvin of the ball near the goal line as the Gators tried to finish off their fifth possession with another TD in the second quarter. D.J. Moore intercepted a John Brantley pass with 3:45 left, giving the Gators a total of eight turnovers this season.
Harvin made up for the fumble by scoring on a 1-yard run on Florida's opening drive of the second half.
The Gators forced Vanderbilt to punt with 1:33 left until halftime, and that was more than enough time for Tebow to move them 80 yards in seven plays for the big cushion.
Vanderbilt avoided the shutout when Chris Nickson replaced Mackenzi Adams, who suffered an injury, for the second half.
Nickson drove the Commodores on drives of 81 and 87 yards. He capped the first with a 2-yard TD to Jamie Graham at the end of the third quarter, then tossed a 14-yarder to Sean Walker late in the fourth on a drive kept alive when Dunlap ran into VU punter Brett Upson.