Healthy Tebow focused on future
BATON ROUGE, La. -- The news that ended Noggin Watch on Saturday morning was officially delivered by thumb.
Florida coach Urban Meyer checked on his concussed quarterback, Tim Tebow, in the team's makeshift training room at the Crowne Plaza hotel. Tebow had just had his head examined for the final time by medical staff. When he saw his coach across the room, he gave him a thumbs-up.
Tebow was cleared to play against LSU.
Roughly a dozen hours after the thumb was raised, delirious Florida fans in Tiger Stadium stuck their index fingers in the air. Their 5-0 Gators regained the services of their superstar QB, retained their No. 1 ranking, and remained on the path to a repeat national title after bruising LSU, 13-3.
This figured to be the tallest hurdle until December, and a looming SEC championship game collision with Alabama. Florida got out of Death Valley with a no-frills, low-thrills victory. And with a happy, healthy quarterback.
"'Courageous' is a great word," Meyer said, describing Tebow. "Toughness, team-first mentality, competitor."
A good portion of America spent the past two weeks wringing their hands over Tebow's status after he suffered a concussion against Kentucky. The cards, letters and other expressions of support were "humbling," Tebow said. The long wait to be cleared to play was maddening.
The last image most of us had of No. 15 was of his hurling in a garbage bag as he was being carted out of Commonwealth Stadium and loaded onto an ambulance to spend the night in a Lexington hospital. Until game time, nobody outside the Florida team hotel knew whether Tebow would play, or how long, or how well.
On Saturday night, Tebow put himself to the test and others' fears to rest.
"We didn't execute that great," Tebow said. "But I'm very proud of our team and our offense. We played hard."
That included Tebow, who looked like his freewheeling, freelancing, collision-loving self over the game's final 35 minutes. He spent most of the first half handing off in a protective game plan that largely kept him out of harm's way.
Meyer candidly admitted that he rejiggered his offense to take much of the running burden off Tebow. The option was largely deleted from the game plan, and Meyer called for handoffs on a couple of the short-yardage plays that have long been Tebow's specialty.
In general, Florida went as conservative as it thought it could get away with -- and that was pretty conservative, given its lights-out defense.
But with the score tied at 3 late in the first half, Tebow cut loose. The play that got him going was a highlight-reel scramble that started a drive after LSU tied the game.
On first and 10 from the Florida 20, Tebow weaved, wiggled and dodged five Tigers before the sixth one brought him down after an 8-yard gain. Just like that, he was back to Timmy Heisman.
Two plays later he hit Brandon James for 20 yards. Four plays after that, he hammered straight ahead on a third-and-2 keeper for a first down. Then the savvy quarterback made the only touchdown of the game happen, looking off LSU safety Chad Jones and then firing a 24-yard scoring strike to Riley Cooper.
On the first drive of the second half, Tebow ran or passed on eight consecutive plays as he guided Florida 76 yards. Kicker Caleb Sturgis missed a chip-shot field goal, but it didn't matter. At that point, a seven-point halftime lead seemed like 17, because Florida's defense absolutely owned LSU.
The primary reason Florida won Saturday night was the work of that relentless unit.
The Gators D was fast, fearless and almost error-free in terms of tackling and coverages. I'm sure two dozen schools looking for head coaches will somehow avoid hiring defensive coordinator Charlie Strong again, but this was another in a series of strong audition tapes.
"One of the best efforts I've ever seen containing athletes," Meyer said.
That effort took a significant amount of pressure off Tebow, which undoubtedly was the way Meyer preferred it. The coach said he struggled for several days with the decision on whether to play Tebow, even if he were cleared by an array of doctors."About three days ago I didn't want to play him," Meyer said. "I just didn't feel comfortable. It was a tough deal. I kept saying, 'Would I play my son?' Tim is my son. Thursday was when I came to grips [with the decision]."
On Thursday, Meyer had a 90-minute meeting with Tebow's father, Bob. He also met with doctors from Pittsburgh who specialize in treating concussions and had been in Gainesville assessing Tebow.
"They made it clear the risk factor wasn't there," Meyer said.
And Tebow himself made it clear to Meyer that he wanted to play. Over and over and over.
"He was nuts," Meyer said. "I mean, nonstop: 'Let me play, let me play, let me play.'"
Still, Tebow had to pass exams again Friday and Saturday. In between, a guy with a history of motion sickness had to endure his toughest test -- a turbulent flight from Gainesville to Baton Rouge.
Tebow said he was gripping the seat in front of him with his air vent blowing on his face, urging himself not to get sick.
"After that, I was good to go," said Tebow, who was still wearing a motion sickness patch behind his ear after the game.
And after taking an initial hard shot on Florida's first possession, Tebow was sure he was good to go. He said he avoided trying to fight for extra yardage on a couple of occasions, which would have exposed him to hits from extra defenders -- "I tried to play smart" -- but otherwise, it was pretty much Tebow as usual.
And Tebow as usual is awfully good.
"He's unbelievable," LSU linebacker Jacob Cutrera said. "You have to keep your eye on him every play."
After Saturday night, America can probably stop keeping its eye on Tim Tebow for every waking moment. The most scrutinized concussion in college football history is most likely history, if Tebow comes out of this game fine on Sunday.
Noggin Watch is over. The repeat quest continues.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.