Tebow absence would radically alter Gators' offensive philosophy
It's possible Tim Tebow could miss Florida's Oct. 10 battle with LSU
John Brantley, the Gators' backup, might be the SEC's 5th-best quarterback
The Gators offense would feature more passing if Brantley was playing
Tim Tebow isn't supposed to show pain. After all, this is the same guy who broke his hand two years ago against Florida State and kept right on playing. He's supposed to get up every time. Saturday night, he didn't get up.
As Tebow lay on the field at Commonwealth Stadium, the world stopped for the top-ranked Gators. No player in the country is more important to his team. After the more important questions about Tebow's well-being are addressed, it may be prudent to ask another question: Could the Gators repeat as national champs without him?
Thoughts of titles were secondary in the moments immediately following Tebow's injury. A replay showed that after a crushing hit from Kentucky defensive end Taylor Wyndham, Tebow's head bounced off the knee of Florida offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert. Later, cameras showed Tebow vomiting into a bag while being carted off the sideline. The final image of him was through the window of an ambulance bound for the University of Kentucky Medical Center.
While the pictures of Tebow looked frightening, Florida coach Urban Meyer thinks his quarterback will recover. "Tim's taken a lot of hit in his career," Meyer told the Gator Radio Network. "He's a tough nut. We think he's going to be fine. I don't know yet."
If Tebow indeed suffered a concussion, as Meyer suggested in his postgame press conference, he'll have an off week to recover and could possibly be ready to play when Florida faces LSU in Baton Rouge on Oct. 10. But if Tebow can't play, what then?
The Gators would turn to John Brantley, a redshirt sophomore from Ocala, Fla. During spring practice, I wrote that Brantley might be the fourth-best quarterback in the SEC behind Tebow, Jevan Snead and Ryan Mallett. Having seen Alabama's Greg McElroy in person, I'd revise that statement to say that Brantley might be the fifth-best; but make no mistake, he is no ordinary backup quarterback.
If Brantley played at Georgia or USC or at any school that runs a pro-style offense, he could replace the starter seamlessly. The problem at Florida is that the coaching staff will have to adjust the offense to fit Brantley's skill set, which is more similar to Matt Barkley's than it is to Tebow's. Brantley has a cannon, and he throws a beautiful ball, but he would not fit well in the single-wing package Tebow has made so dangerous.
Meyer has said the Florida offense under Brantley would look more similar to Meyer's Utah offense under Alex Smith. If Brantley could duplicate Smith's 2004 success, that would give Florida plenty of firepower to stay in the title hunt. But if the Gators had to make a sudden switch because of injury, it might take weeks for the line and skill players to adjust to their new assignments.
Bottom line: Brantley has the talent to keep Florida competing for a title if he is pressed into duty, but the complications of switching between quarterbacks suited for two different styles could significantly slow Florida's offense.
Meyer knows this. Obviously, he'd rather get Tebow back now and install the Brantley offense next spring. "We've just got to get [Tebow] healthy," Meyer told the Gator Radio Network.
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