By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Tony Fein has seen the highlights on Sportscenter and has an idea of what to expect from Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.
The Ole Miss linebacker also has an idea of what not to expect.
“I don't expect him to slide. When I see him coming I have to buckle up and get ready for action,” he said.
Ole Miss (1-2, 0-1 SEC) and Florida (3-0, 1-0) kick off at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
Tebow, the sophomore trigger man of the third-ranked Gators' spread offense is 6-foot-3, 235 pounds. He's only 10 pounds lighter than Fein, who is used to a much larger differential between himself and quarterbacks.
Size isn't the only attribute that makes Tebow different.
“You put the tape on him last summer, and you wondered how well he would throw,” said Ole Miss defensive coordinator John Thompson, who was at Florida while Tebow was a high school player in Jacksonville. “You put the tape on him now, and he's completing 73 percent. He's also a 400-pound bench presser.”
And an 82.3-yards per game rusher. That's 10th in the SEC. Tebow is also the league's No. 2 passer with 257 yards per game and tops SEC starting quarterbacks in overall efficiency with a 201.7 rating, almost 40 points ahead of the next starter, Kentucky's Andre Woodson.
“He's playing very well, and we're getting a lot of production out of him,” Florida coach Urban Meyer said.
A freshman Tebow had his fans last year as the Gators won the SEC and eventually the national championship.
There were many who believed that senior quarterback Chris Leak was not a good fit for Meyer's spread offense.
While it's hard to argue with Leak's final result, now is Tebow's time, and he fits the offense like a glove.
The Gators lead the SEC in passing offense, total offense and scoring offense and are second in the conference in rushing offense.
Florida's 59.0 points per game ranks second in the nation.
In addition to overwhelming speed at most positions, what makes the Gators so effective is the versatility of Tebow, who adds power running under center.
“I learned a long time ago that if you can limit an offense you can have success,” Thompson said. “But it's hard to put their offense in a box. They think outside the box. They run a ton of formations, and our adjustments are going to be critical. We have to be in the right place at the right time.”
Tebow was home-schooled through high school but played for Jacksonville's Nease High School. He is aware of the legend developing around him and of the excitement building around a Florida team that jumped West Virginia and Oklahoma in the AP Top 25 after pinning 59 points on Tennessee last week.
He is determined not to lead the Gators into an Oxford trap.
“One way to avoid that is by staying focused and making sure you've improved every day through the week,” Tebow said. “Even though we got a big win like that over Tennessee, we've had to go out and practice every day and work on getting better.
“We can't be satisfied with one big win. All we've done is go 3-0 and beat one SEC team.”