As the Gators continue preparations for the 2013 Sugar Bowl match-up against Louisville, HailFloridaHail has been looking back at the previous Sugar Bowl games involving the Florida Gators. The last of the series is the last time Gator Nation got to see legendary quarterback and Heisman winner Tim Tebow play in a Gator uniform. The final score was immaterial as the game being Tebow’s last and the fact that the Gators missed a second straight BCS title game were bigger headlines than the game itself. The Gators did, however, actually win the game over the Cincinnati Bearcats 51-24.
Despite Cincinnati coming in undefeated, ranked third, and barely out of the BCS title game, the Gators were still huge favorites. Having won the BCS title the previous season and returning almost everyone but Percy, the Gators had been the odds on favorite to become the first repeat title winner in BCS history. That is until they ran into Alabama in the SEC title game and were soundly defeated.
After that agonizing defeat, where we famously watched Tebow shedding tears on the sideline, the Gators were awoken from a seemingly season long slumber. They seemed to play down to the level of their opponent all year and squeaked out a lot of wins that very well could have been losses to teams that were big underdogs. The question coming into this Sugar Bowl game was how the Gators would respond to that loss. Would they come out uninspired with their hopes of a repeat BCS title dashed or would they come out on fire ready to show the world they were a better team than what showed up in the Georgia Dome?
It didn’t take long to figure out which team would show up. With Tebow going 7-7 on the opening possession, the Gators drove to a quick touchdown and a 7-0 lead. The onslaught had just begun. The first half turned into a Tebow highlight reel as he would finish it 20-23 for 320 yards including an 80 yarder to Riley Cooper and the Gators led 30-3 at halftime.
The Gator defense, behind superstars Brandon Spikes, Carlos Dunlap, and Joe Haden, showed up ready to play as well shutting down the high powered Cincinnati offensive attack designed by the newly hired Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. The Gators held the Bearcats to only one first down midway through the second quarter and the Gators had shot out to a 23-0 lead by then. At that point it was all over but the crying for Cincinnati.
With the Gators holding a commanding halftime lead, the second half became a Tim Tebow send off parade as Gator fans screamed loudly for their soon to be departed superstar. Tebow finished the game 31-36 for 482 yards, a Sugar Bowl record, and 51 yards rushing and was named the game MVP.
Wide receiver Riley Cooper finished with 7 receptions for 181 yards with one td and tight end Aaron Hernandez caught 9 passes for 111 yards and one td as the Gators gained a Sugar Bowl record 659 yards of total offense. This Gator team fell one point short of tying the record for most points scored in a Sugar Bowl held by the ’96 Gator national championship team who put up 52 on rival Florida State.
Playing in the Sugar Bowl instead of the BCS Championship Game was certainly a disappointment for the Gator football team and for Gator Nation, but this game served as the perfect send off for the Gators favorite son. With Tebow directly responsible for 81% of the Gator offense, fans got to see him run Urban Meyer’s spread offense to perfection one last time before he and many other Gator greats left to graduation or early for the NFL. One last dominant effort for the legend and the end of a great era of Gator football.