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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

OXFORD, Miss. - With the game on the line, Tim Tebow walked up to his coach and got in his face.

The baby-faced 20-year-old quarterback wasn't about to lose his first road start.

He made sure his 43-year-old coach knew that.

"He's in my ear, 'Let me win the game,'" UF coach Urban Meyer said. "Okay, Tim, I'll let you win the game."

The sophomore star carried the No. 4 Gators (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) to a grind-it-out 30-24 win and destroyed a 40-year-old school record in the process.

He ran for a UF quarterback-high 166 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns.

Larry Rentz previously set the program mark with 109 yards against Tulane in 1967.

Adding in a 20-for-34 throwing performance for 261 yards and another pair of scores, Tebow accounted for 427 yards on 61 touches.

"That was a four-quarter fight," Tebow said. "It was down to the last minute. I wasn't really thinking about how many carries I had or anything like that. I was just trying to get the first down, manage the offense."

UF called Tebow runs on five straight plays to burn the final three minutes of clock after Mississippi's final effort - a fake punt - failed.

He powered for a pair of first downs through the brunt of the Rebels' defense, allowing the Gators to kneel down and run out the clock.

"I have to commend Tim Tebow because he is like a brick wall," Mississippi defensive back Dustin Mouzon said. "I came up to hit him, and I kind of got hurt."

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The Rebels deserved credit too.

They laughed at the 23-point spread and fell just short of victory in the fourth quarter, boldly going for the win.

After UF settled for a 25-yard field goal to take a 30-24 edge, the underdogs had 4:59 remaining to mount a touchdown drive to take the lead.

But they stuttered (two false starts) and stalled at their own 33-yard line with 3:09 left.

On a fourth-and-11, Coach Ed Orgeron tried a fake punt, and it almost worked.

Punter Justin Sparks completed a short pass to tight end Robert Lane, but defensive end Jermaine Cunningham converted an open-field tackle three yards shy of a first down.

UF took a timeout before the play and telegraphed it.

"I know him as a coach, and he's not going to punt that ball," Meyer said.

While Tebow's switch stayed on for 60 minutes, everybody else wearing white looked a little off at times.

A porous secondary and a weak pass rush allowed Mississippi to score on three straight drives in the third quarter.

UF went up 27-9 and, all of a sudden, had that lead cut to three points five minutes later.

Rebels quarterback Seth Adams, a game-time decision with a sprained shoulder, wowed with a 77-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace with 7 seconds left in the third to really spook the Gators.

Wallace sped past freshmen Joe Haden and Major Wright on a deep sideline route, opening up a two-yard cushion.

"I've never been beat like that before," Haden said.

With the lead cut to 27-24, the returning national championship players - led by Tebow - would come to the rescue.

Senior safety Tony Joiner had a key fourth-quarter interception and sophomore wideout Percy Harvin had a game-high 11 catches for 121 yards.

Mississippi played eight and nine men in pass coverage, shutting off deep passes and forcing Tebow to throw dinks and dunks and pull it down and run.

Meyer said Tebow would ideally take about 10 carries per game, and he worried about overusing his prized quarterback.

"We have to be very careful with the Tebow thing," Meyer said. "That's a crutch."

If the Gators thought Saturday was tough, what's coming could be downright scary.

UF, now the sole leader of the SEC East Division, hosts Auburn next week and then travels to LSU and Kentucky before ending October with Georgia.

First, it's back to Gainesville.

"I'm anxious to get on a plane," Meyer said, "and get the hell out of here."

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