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Saturday, January 22, 2022

OXFORD, Miss - On Saturday, Tim Tebow picked up the Gators, placed them on his back and carried them to a win against Mississippi six yards at a time.

With the clock winding down and UF clinging to a slim lead over the Rebels, Tebow rushed 11 times on the final two drives for five first downs.

Tebow's runs up the middle led to a field goal, and he single-handedly ran off the last three minutes with straight-ahead plows.

He finished with 166 yards on 27 carries, and both of those numbers set UF single-game records for a quarterback.

As a Nease High alum, I've watched Tebow break plenty of records, and that's one that I'd rather not see.

The sophomore accounted for more than half of the Gators' total rushing attempts, and he is their leading rusher this season.

Urban Meyer and the rest of the coaching staff have spent the better part of the last two years trying to persuade Tebow to abandon his reckless running style to prevent an injury, but what they are doing with him now may be even worse than letting him run over a linebacker on his way out of bounds.

His upper body is much better equipped to handle contact than his legs are.

Sending Tebow through the middle of opposing defenses on more than a quarter of the team's offensive plays is a dangerous gamble, and sooner or later UF's luck will run out.

Every time he goes spinning through a jumble of linebackers and defensive linemen, Tebow's knees and ankles are very susceptible to injury, and believe it or not, he isn't invincible.

Nease's coaching staff learned that quickly, as Tebow missed time in two seasons due to injury.

During his senior year, Tebow suffered an ankle sprain after a quarterback sneak and missed three starts, playing sparingly off the bench in the third.

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He barely made it back in time to guide the Panthers to a state championship, something they couldn't have accomplished without him.

In college, Tebow means even more to his team than he did in high school. If there is one part of the Gators' offense that can't be lost, even for one game, it's Tebow.

Meyer knows this, and he acknowledged the danger of the play-calling after the game, saying that a quarterback should never have as many carries in a game as Tebow had.

The problem is that Meyer hasn't been given a reason not to run Tebow yet. He almost never fails to pick up the necessary yards, and he seems to be the most reliable option.

What baffles me is the reluctance to hand the ball to Kestahn Moore, the starting running back whom Meyer has repeatedly called a trustworthy player.

Moore struggled to hold on to the ball last year, prompting me to name him Kestahn "nobody fumbles" Moore.

He has since shed that moniker and become a consistent performer, averaging more than five yards per carry with no fumbles on 53 attempts.

However, with the game in jeopardy, Tebow seizes control of the running duties.

Whether this is because Meyer doesn't actually trust his backs or because Tebow insists upon it, it carries a risk that could end the Gators' title hopes in a snap, crackle or pop.

This isn't to say that they should play scared. The moment they begin calling plays just to avoid an injury, the offense will become less productive.

Meyer and his staff can and will do whatever they have to in order to win, and with games against top Southeastern Conference foes looming, they'll want the ball in safe hands.

No matter what, every time Tebow goes to the ground, the collective breath of Gator Nation will be held.

Perhaps the day will never come when Tebow hobbles off the field to polite applause, but I think Meyer and his fans would agree that they have to minimize the chances of that happening.

The easiest way to do this is to let the running backs do some running.

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