Bobby Johnson’s first impression of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was not exactly an overwhelming one.
It was Nov. 4, 2006 when the Gators, ranked No. 7 at the time, barely defeated Johnson’s Vanderbilt team 25-19.
“That was the year that (Chris) Leak was the quarterback and they’d put (Tebow) in there for short-yardage situations,” Johnson said. “He was really young, and I remember Jonathan Goff got a really good hit on him and I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, you know. He’s all right.’”
Almost three years later to the day, the impression Tebow has made on the entire Southeastern Conference, if not all of college football, is a lasting one.
He has won one Heisman Trophy and helped lead his team to two national championships. With his play thus far this fall he has many thinking he will add one more of each.
Last week he became the SEC’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns, and his post-game comments following Florida’s last loss (Sept. 27, 2008 against Ole Miss) were considered so inspirational that they were immortalized on a plaque outside the team’s practice facility.
He also has doled out a lot more punishment than he has received from the likes of Goff or any other defensive players who have followed.
“I’ve seen him get better and better, but the physical part of it — he’s just very tough to deal with,” Johnson said. “You see people try to tackle him, it’s tough to get him on the ground, and then he’s deceivingly fast. I don’t know how he does it, but sometimes guys are chasing him and he just seems to run away from him.”
Johnson and the Commodores (2-7, 0-5 in the SEC) will face Tebow for the final time Saturday when they travel to Gainesville for a 6:15 (CST) contest, which will be televised by ESPN (Comcast Ch. 11).
Florida is the top-ranked team in the country at 8-0 overall and 6-0 in conference play. It already has clinched a spot in the SEC title game.
“We’re 8-0, (and) we’re excited about that and having the opportunity to go 9-0,” Tebow said earlier this week. “We’re getting better, and I think that will keep us motivated. If you can’t be motivated and focused when you’re 8-0 and everything you want is right there in front of you and is a possibility, I would be shocked.”
Last season, Vanderbilt’s attempt to shock Florida and to pull an upset was quickly dismissed.
Tebow had a hand in five first-half touchdowns (three passing, two rushing) as Florida cruised to a 42-14 victory. A year earlier he threw for three and ran for one in the first half of an eventual 49-22 Commodores’ defeat.
In those two contests, Tebow combined to complete 34 of 44 passes for 352 yards with six touchdowns. He also ran 17 times for 123 yards and four touchdowns.
“When you get that dual threat, you have to ask your defensive linemen to stay under control, make sure you’re not creating big seams,” Johnson said. “That slows down your pass rush so he can throw the ball more effectively. It’s a great weapon to have a mobile quarterback, and one who’s as tough as he is is doubly effective.”
All of which makes him slightly better than ‘all right.’