Tim Tebow looks to continue making his case for becoming the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy when he leads 11th-ranked Florida into its first meeting with Florida Atlantic on Saturday.
Tebow may be the Heisman front-runner following his performance last Saturday as the Gators (7-3) concluded their SEC schedule with a 51-31 victory over South Carolina. The quarterback accounted for seven touchdowns - five rushing - as he completed 22 of 32 passes for a career-high 304 yards while running for 120 yards on 26 carries.
He already has broken the SEC single-season record for total touchdowns running and passing with 42, and needs one more rushing TD to break the league mark. He already has 19, which is six more than any other player in the conference and five more than the former school record.
“He’s done everything you expect a Florida quarterback to do,” Gators wide receiver Andre Caldwell said after making 11 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown against the Gamecocks.
Tebow’s record-breaking season has included only five interceptions in 255 attempts, and he’s completed an SEC-best 67.8 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,532 yards. He may be pulling away in a thinning Heisman field— Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon may be his closest competition—but still has two games left to impress the voters, including a Nov. 24 matchup with Florida State.
“That’s an honor any time your named with that award,” Tebow said. “But I’m not going to worry about that.”
Tebow is more concerned with helping Florida, the reigning national champion, potentially improve its bowl status with a third consecutive victory.
As good as Tebow and the passing game have been, the Gators have not been nearly as good against the pass—one reason they’re hanging on to very slim hopes of winning the SEC’s East Division.
The Gators allowed 316 passing yards last week and are giving up a conference-high 249.1 per game. They have only three sacks over the last three games.
Florida is 11-1 all-time against teams from the Sun Belt Conference after scoring on its first seven possessions in a 59-31 victory over Troy on Sept. 8. Tebow threw for 236 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 93 yards and two TDs on 17 carries.
The Gators’ only loss to a Sun Belt team came against North Texas in 1947.
This is the first of three straight road games to close the regular season for Florida Atlantic (5-4), which is fighting for a bowl bid and a conference title. The Owls are 4-1 in the Sun Belt, one game behind idle Troy with two conference games to play.
They face last-place Florida International next weekend before closing the regular season against Troy on Dec. 1.
The Owls’ offense, ranked second in the conference with 276.8 yards and 27.6 points per game, is a concern for Gators coach Urban Meyer
“They are a very functional team,” Meyer said. “They score a lot of points. They throw for 270 yards a game and we’ve had issues stopping the pass. I consider this team a lot like Troy. Our kids did respect Troy. Troy moved the ball up and down the field on us in the second half.”
Di’Ivory Edgecomb caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Rusty Smith with 2:49 to play to complete FAU’s rally from an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat Arkansas State 34-31 last Saturday.
Smith is the centerpiece of Florida Atlantic’s potent offense, throwing for a conference-high 20 touchdowns and ranking second with 2,441 passing yards. The sophomore, however, has thrown four of his seven interceptions in the last two games.
He went 15-of-25 for 184 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the Owls’ last game against an SEC opponent, a 45-17 loss at Kentucky on Sept. 29.