The Florida Gators’ run in 2008 after an upset at the hands of the Ole Miss Rebels became known as one of the greatest stretches of success in college football history. Led by head coach Urban Meyer and 2007 Heisman Trophy quarterback Tim Tebow, Florida won its final 10 games en route to the program’s third national title.
After a lackluster 38-7 Gators’ win over the Arkansas Razorbacks, fourth-ranked and defending national champion LSU strolled into Gainesville on Oct. 11, 2008. But the Gators stormed out in front 17-0 at the end of the first quarter behind two touchdowns from receiver Percy Harvin.
Florida built a 20-point lead before LSU closed the gap to 20-14 midway through the third quarter. Would LSU find a way to steal another close one from Florida just like it did in 2007?
After a short Tebow plunge extended Florida’s lead to 13, running back Jeff Demps raced untouched for a 42-yard score to push the margin to 34-14. Then linebacker Brandon Spikes’ 52-yard interception return erased any hope for LSU as Florida dismantled the Tigers 51-21.
Kentucky provided no resistance in a 63-5 beating, and the Gators set their sights on the No. 8 Georgia Bulldogs. Georgia’s offense had ambushed the Florida defense in 2007 with a mix of big plays from quarterback Matthew Stafford and tailback Knowshon Moreno ripping the Gators for 188 yards and three scores. The battle against Georgia in 2008 was a different story. On Moreno’s first carry, Spikes leveled the tailback, evoking an emotional outburst from his team.
Florida capitalized on its first-half, red-zone opportunities while the Bulldogs could only muster three points from kicker Blair Walsh. With Georgia trying to cut into a 14-3 halftime deficit, Stafford was intercepted by Joe Haden, who raced 88 yards to the Bulldog 1 to set up a Tebow rushing touchdown. Minutes later, Tebow found receiver Louis Murphy for a 44-yard score, which extended the margin to 28-3. Florida went on to get revenge for 2007 with a 49-10 rout.
Florida’s next three contests followed script as it defeated Vanderbilt, South Carolina, and The Citadel by a combined score of 168-39.
The Gators then traveled to Tallahassee to face rival Florida State. The Seminoles were only down 14-6 in the second quarter when Harvin suffered a ankle injury. After Harvin’s injury, Tebow and the Gator offensive line mashed the Seminole front seven on a Tebow 4-yard rushing touchdown to extend the lead to 21-6. After an FSU field goal closed the margin to 12, Tebow found tight end Aaron Hernandez for a 24-yard scoring strike that put Florida ahead 28-9 just before halftime. Florida would go on to bludgeon the FSU defense with 317 yards rushing in a 45-15 triumph.
Next up for the Gators was the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide in the Southeastern Conference Championship game. A tough-minded Bama team found itself ahead 20-17 at the end of the third quarter. Down three and facing a stingy Crimson Tide defense, Florida needed a response. The Gators answered the Bama challenge with an 11-play, 62-yard march that gave them a 24-20 lead. Demps and running back Emmanuel Moody were the catalysts of the drive that culminated in a 1-yard Demps run.
With Bama forced to punt, the Gators were 65 yards away from securing a spot in the national title game. Tebow found Murphy for a 33-yard gain that moved UF into Bama territory. On third-and-goal from the 6, Tebow found receiver Riley Cooper at the goal line for the clincher as Florida turned back the Tide 31-20.
Next up in the Bowl Championship Series National Championship game in Miami, Florida, were the No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners, who had averaged 50 points a game and featured 2008 Heisman winner Sam Bradford.
Which would prevail, Oklahoma’s video-game offense or Florida’s swarming defense? Safety Major Wright provided the answer with a vicious hit on Sooner receiver Manuel Johnson on the game’s initial drive, setting the tone for Florida to smother Bradford and OU’s talented playmakers all night. After battling to a 7-7 tie at the half, Florida took the lead on a 13-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 2-yard Harvin score. On the drive, Florida converted three third downs, including a Tebow scramble on third-and-long. After Oklahoma tied the game on a tight end Jermaine Gresham touchdown catch, Florida took a 17-14 advantage on Jonathan Phillips’ 27-yard field goal.
With Oklahoma near midfield, Bradford launched a pass for receiver Juaquin Iglesias that safety Ahmad Black ripped away for an interception. Tebow led the Gators to a game-clinching score, accounting for 80 yards on the touchdown drive. Florida snuffed out Oklahoma’s last gasp and won the national championship 24-14.
The Gators’ 2008 demolition of its final 10 opponents well deserves mention among the greatest runs in college football history. In the 10 games following the Ole Miss loss, Florida averaged 46.9 points per contest while allowing 13.1, and in the seven SEC games in that stretch it averaged 47.1 points while allowing only 11.8.
When it comes to dominance, it doesn’t get much better than that. H&A
All photos courtesy University of Florida Athletics.