We all know Tim Tebow is a demi-god on the football field. His statistics are exceptional and his performance against some of the most fearsome and athletic defenses in college football has been nothing short of otherworldly. But a chink appeared in Tebow's armor Saturday night when Kentucky defensive end Taylor Wyndham came unblocked on a third down play late in the third quarter, sacked the former Heisman winner and drove his head into teammate Marcus Gilbert's knee.
At the time, Florida led comfortably 31-7. Tebow, playing sick, had already carried the ball 16 times for 123 yards.
Superman got whiplashed. And then he got sick on the sideline. Florida pronounced him "fine," but Tebow was taken to the hospital before the game ended and will stay there overnight reportedly with a "bad concussion." Whether or not it was the illness combined with the hit, or just the hit, the question has to be asked: Should Tim Tebow still have been in the game?
Everyone felt sick when Tebow went down, or at least they should have. The Kentucky defense didn't exactly have a moment of silence immediately afterward; I thought Kentucky's players celebrated for way too long in the immediate aftermath of the hit. Tebow doesn't milk attention. Generally when he gets hit, no matter how hard, he immediately gets back up. That's the kind of player he is. When he went down and stayed down, Kentucky's defenders should have shown a little class and stopped celebrating. After all, they were still losing by 24 points, it's not like they'd just won the game.
Second, what the hell happened with ESPN2 suddenly going to commercial as Tebow lay on the ground immobile? And coming back with an advertisement? This was the potential story of the college football season so far and for about five minutes they completely bungled the coverage. Millions of people were sitting on the edge of their seats when they abruptly cut away. There was no explanation at all. It's rare that ESPN's coverage completely flunks in a crucial situation, but ESPN2 pulled it off.
Finally, the shot of Tebow being carted off the field puking into a bag was borderline too much. In fact, the whole puking angle was way overplayed during this game. Plenty of guys puke before big games, sick or otherwise, why do we need to see it for this game and no other? What's more, why do we need to hear Bob Davie commentating on the puking? I think we know what puking looks like.
But back to the question we began this column with, did Urban Meyer do Tim Tebow a disservice by leaving him in the game too long?
No matter what angle you consider it from, this wasn't an easy call.
Pro: Florida led 31-7. With a little less than 20 minutes left, that's just a three-score lead.
Meyer likely wanted one more score, touchdown or field goal, to put this game away. Going up by four scores with 20 minutes left, the likelihood of a serious contest emerging becomes much less. Then it would have been safe to pull Tebow.
Con: Florida scored 31 points in the first quarter. Since that point, they'd been milking down the game, playing out the thread on a contest they'd already won.
My point, Florida could have named its score. In fact, here's an even more amazing stat for you, adding up the last four quarters of their game last season and the first quarter of this season's game, the Gators had outscored Kentucky 94-5.
Let me repeat that, 94-5!
For whatever reason, Kentucky just can't play with the Gators. This game was over after the first quarter and both sides knew it. Florida took its foot off the gas.
Pro: On the drive he was injured, Florida's took possession of the football with 8:23 remaining in the second half. It was just their second drive of the second half.
The first drive only lasted four plays. So Tebow really hadn't been in the game for that long. If you're not pulling him at the half, why not allow him to go a couple of series into the second half?
Con: Three score lead implies that Kentucky is going to score three touchdowns, convert three two-point conversions, and even then they're only tied. If the game gets close, bring Tebow back in.
This isn't baseball. Once Tebow came out of the game, he's perfectly fine to come back in. Why not go ahead and get him some rest, allow your second-string quarterback to get some live-game action for a change? If the game really tightens up, bring Tebow back in.
Pro: Florida has a young receiving corps, a new offensive coordinator, and Tebow needs real game action to get in sync with them before a real road test at LSU.
After the performance against Tennessee when Florida didn't complete a single pass to their receiving corps for more than 14 yards, Tebow needs the reps with these guys. Not to mention their new offensive coordinator, Steve Addazio, is only coaching his second game in the SEC. Finally, after a bye week, LSU looms in a night game. Now is the time to get the reps in.
Con: If your goal is to work on the passing game, then why did Tebow carry the ball at all in the second half. He carried three times, two of the four plays on the first drive, and the play immediately before the injury. Several more carries were called back for penalties.
If you really want to work on your passing game, then Tebow shouldn't touch the ball in the running game. Period.
Pro: Tebow wanted to stay in, and next week is a bye week. He has plenty of time to recover.
No doubt he did. But Tebow would want to stay in if opposing linebackers were armed with machetes. That's the kind of player he is, his coach needed to protect him from himself.
Con: Tebow is going to be relied upon to carry the load in the remaining eight games. Preserve him even if this game ends up a bit closer. Especially when he's already sick.
As I wrote about after Floria's win over Tennessee, Tebow is going to have to play more like his 2007 self, than his 2008 self. He needs to be Tebow as battering ram, the avenging archangel of football. So he needs to take as few hits as possible, and spared whenever possible, such as late in the third quarter of an apparent win. Finally, he was sick. Get him out of the game for that reason. He's already gutted it out to get you a win. Exerting yourself while sick almost certainly takes a greater toll.
But I think Meyer was in the right.
The new offensive coordinator, the new receivers, the upcoming bye week where live action wouldn't happen, the fact that it was the second drive of the second half, the fact that up until now Tebow has been indestructible, all of these things would militate in favor of playing Tebow.
But that's just my opinion, as you can see from the arguments above, reasonable minds can differ when it comes to making a decision in this situation.
The only thing I would criticize Meyer for is Tebow carrying the ball at all in the second half. I wouldn't have allowed it. Tebow was hurt on a passing play, and I think that's a risk worth taking given Florida's offensive shortcomings in the passing game, but there is no way Tebow should have been carrying the ball up by 24. I would have grabbed him by the facemask and said, "Tim, if you run the football for any reason other than to get away from a sack, I am pulling your butt."
But that didn't happen, and let's just hope Tebow is completely recovered in time for the night game at LSU. Concussions are scary business, particularly for a player like Tebow who is making a run at college football immortality and has played the game with reckless abandon to this point.
Let's see how he comes back from the first hit that has shown us he is, in fact, a mortal man.