Stopping Tim Tebow isn't easy, but it is possible. Here's how
Stopping Tebow requires the kind of elite defensive personnel few teams possess
The Auburn (2007) and Ole Miss (2008) games provide a blue print for success
In each of those UF loses, a dynamic opposing defensive line played the key role
By now, you've probably already read our attempt to quantify Florida quarterback Tim Tebow's greatness. Or maybe you skipped it, because you can't bear to read another word about the Gators' No. 15. If that's the case, keep reading this story. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
Tebow can be stopped. Today, you're going to learn how. It isn't easy, and it requires the kind of elite defensive personnel only a few teams possess, but it can be done. To understand how to stop the 235-pound southpaw, we must examine how he's been beaten before.
Tebow has suffered five losses as a starting quarterback, but we can throw out three of those defeats because the defense didn't truly stop him.
In a 28-24 loss at LSU on Oct. 6, 2007, Tebow looked like he might beat the eventual national champion Tigers single-handedly, but Florida's defense couldn't make a short-yardage stop in crunch time. In a 42-30 loss to Georgia three weeks later, Tebow was nursing a shoulder injury suffered a week earlier (the same injury he aggravated in 2008). On strict orders not to run, Tebow was a sitting duck and got creamed repeatedly. In the Capital One Bowl that season against Michigan, the Wolverines defense gave up 35 points. Fortunately for Michigan, Wolverines receivers toasted Florida's young secondary to the tune of 41 points.
The only two Tebow defeats that can provide a blueprint for beating The Chosen One are a 20-17 home loss to Auburn on Sept. 29, 2007 and last year's 31-30 loss to Ole Miss in The Swamp. In both cases, a dynamic defensive line set the tone.
Though he finished with only three tackles, Auburn defensive tackle Josh Thompson played as well as defensive coordinator Will Muschamp had ever seen Thompson play. Sen'Derrick Marks, then playing defensive end, was nearly unblockable, dragging down Percy Harvin for a loss of six on what could have been Florida's go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter. Auburn's front four occupied all five Florida linemen. The linebackers filled the gaps. The secondary took away the deep ball. Auburn's defense played so efficiently Florida coaches lost confidence in everyone except Tebow to carry the ball. The result was a mind-numbing 19 carries for Tebow only a week after he'd carried 27 times at Ole Miss.
"We had to have patience in the play calling, which is what we did," Muschamp told The Birmingham News. "We made them bleed for the yards."
Forcing Tebow to become the Gators' lone rusher is critical, because even though he is in excellent shape, the human body can absorb only so much pounding. That could be tougher for opponents now because Florida coach Urban Meyer has confidence in speedy backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. Still, Meyer's tendency is to call plays only for the players he trusts completely when the game gets tight. With Harvin gone, it may take another player a while to earn that trust.
That brings us to Ole Miss. The Rebels won because they forced five Florida fumbles and recovered three, but they also won because they did what no team had done before: stuffed Tebow on a critical fourth-and-short. "We'll take that accolade," said Ole Miss defensive end Kentrell Lockett, who had a hand on Tebow when he fell short of the first-down marker. Lockett is as proud of that play as of his blocked extra point, which forced the Gators to try for that fourth down.
Ever since Tebow slammed through Tennessee's defense as a freshman to keep a game-winning drive alive, he has been almost automatic on fourth-and-short. So when the Gators needed a yard from the Ole Miss 32 to move closer to a potential game-winning field goal, Tebow got the call.
He'll get it again this season, and every Florida opponent should try to copy what Ole Miss did to defend that play. The Rebels knew Tebow could run left, up the middle or right, but they also knew he probably wouldn't go wide of the tight end. So the defensive linemen shot low, creating a pile from tackle to tackle. That forced Tebow to run more laterally than he would have liked to find a hole. Then three very important things happened.
1. Linebacker Tony Fein dipped his hips and blasted center Maurkice Pouncey, knocking Pouncey into Tebow's path.
2. Defensive tackle Peria Jerry submarined right tackle Jason Watkins. In the process, Jerry also took out right guard Mike Pouncey. This left lead blocker Jamaal Deveaux with nowhere to go. This technique only works if you're a 6-foot-2, 300-pound future first-rounder with the explosiveness of an Olympic high jumper. If your team doesn't have one of these, don't get your hopes up.
3. Freshman cornerback Marcus Temple, whose responsibility was outside contain, didn't try to be a hero. He grabbed Tebow and held him until Jerry and Lockett could drag him to the ground.
So that's how a team can stop Tebow's bread-and-butter play. But what about more pedestrian down-and-distance situations? To formulate a plan, we sought the advice of a defender who sees Tebow every day -- Florida linebacker Ryan Stamper.
If Stamper were a defensive coordinator, he would order his defensive backs to stay close enough to Tebow's receivers to know what brand of gum they prefer. Remember, Tebow has thrown just 10 interceptions in two seasons, so any pass is likely to be accurate. Tebow doesn't have to throw balls up for grabs because of his scrambling ability. To stop that, Stamper would rush three and assign a spy to shadow Tebow and grab him if he runs.
Asked who might have the combination of speed and power, Stamper didn't hesitate. "Someone like a Dunlap," Stamper said, referring to Carlos Dunlap, the 6-6, 290-pound Florida defensive end who was his high school's kick returner. For his part, Dunlap said he could tackle Tebow one-on-one in the open field. "I'm 290 running the same speed he is," Dunlap said. Anyone smaller might get flattened and give up a first down on a scramble. "Tebow is a lot stronger than the average person at his weight," Dunlap said. "You've seen him on film. You've seen what he does to guys his size."
So there you have it. To truly contain Tebow, you'll need to force Meyer to make his star carry more than 15 times, spy him with a 290-pound former kick returner and use your future first-round defensive tackle to stuff him on fourth-and-one with the game on the line. This plan is completely foolproof. It can't fail.
Unless he throws a jump pass.
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