The white helmet era for UC began with a 20-yard Mardy Gilyard kickoff return in the Allstate Sugar Bowl Friday night. Meantime, the Florida Gators ditched their white hats for the traditional orange lids.
As the cameras flashed, UC was back in the Superdome for a bowl game, and the New Orleans Bowl and North Texas this wasn't.
This was the big time in the Big Easy. Florida from the SEC who's been to the Sugar Bowl against UC from the Big East who's not used to coming to such fancy dances.
The Bearcats in their first drive in white looked good until a couple holding penalties sent them backward. For Florida, the opening drive was "old hat", Tim Tebow 7-7 passing for 61 yards culminating in a seven-yard touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez.
Florida did everything right on the first series except make the extra point. Walter Stewart blocked the attempt by Caleb Sturgis to give Bearcat fans a little something to cheer about. (Sturgis rebounded though with a 40-yard-field goal later in the quarter spotting Florida to the 9-0 lead.)
All week long, the UC fans had been the loudest. Maybe they just weren't used to being at the party, but party they did. Walking back from the temptations the French Quarter brings, you usually could hear the "UC" cheer on most every block.
So, at the very least, the fans had pretty good practice at yelling, even though early on in this one most of the cheers were nervous energy as the Gators were the ones moving the chains, while UC stuttered.
Tebow and the Gators converted most of their third downs in the first quarter (3-4). The one they didn't set Sturgis up for his field goal. UC, on the other hand, converted none of their third downs and was held scoreless in the first quarter for the first time since the Oregon State game.
"You know, you look at the first drive when we come out and we're moving the ball like we have all year, and we hit a few drive-stopping penalties and the next drive we have a sack and maybe a dropped pass," said Tony Pike. "And that stuff adds up. Against a team like Florida you've got to play your very best. We didn't do that tonight."
Penalties and three and outs and -11 rushing yards is not the way you map out starting the game. And, when the opposing quarterback has completed all 10 of his passes despite being sacked twice by Alex Daniels, it gets worse. Tebow's first incompletion came with 12:32 in the second quarter after hitting 12 straight (a new Sugar Bowl record). When he didn't get the Bearcats through the air, he was still able to convert a 4th and 1 with his massive legs.
By 9:07 in the second quarter when Tebow hit Deonte Thompson for Florida's second touchdown, ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit appeared to be prophetic with his statement that, "Florida will DESTROY Cincinnati". With 12 first downs and 16 more points than the Bearcats, the Gators were definitely smelling blood. The attack would continue.
After another ugly UC three-and-out, the Gators went three plays in 50 seconds and continued to administer the spanking 23-0 as the universal "clicking sound" could be heard in most of the country on Fox affiliates outside of Gainesville and Cincinnati (and I'm sure some there, too).
At 3:11, UC got a brief "yippie" when Jake Rogers hit a 47-yard field goal to make it 23-3, but then Tebow found Riley Cooper streaking down the sideline for an 80-yard score and nine seconds after "yippie", it was yet another score to make it 30-3.
I know from a UC perspective, it appeared as painful as any game in recent memory. Florida didn't respect UC, their fans didn't respect UC and the Bearcats did nothing to answer.
In the first half, Tim Tebow did whatever he wanted for the most part as the Gators rolled over UC as if they were playing Florida International. For whatever element of surprise the white hats were to have, they weren't working.
By halftime, Tim Tebow had his FIRST 300-yard game of the season (320). Two plays into the second half, Tebow had a career-high in passing yards with 356. Less than four minutes into the second half, Florida had a 37-3 lead and a lot of the good publicity Bearcat football had received during the season was being wiped away by a Gator team making a statement over blowing a chance at the national championship game. The Bearcats just happened to be the "whipping boys".
If you were looking for a bright spot, other than those shiny white helmets, there were none. OK, if you're really looking, Mardy Gilyard did set a Sugar Bowl record for kickoff return yards. However, when the other team is repeatedly kicking off after scoring, your chances at such a record are enhanced.
Finally, at 4:46 of the third quarter, there was a "blip" of a bright spot when Tony Pike hit Marcus Waugh on a two-yard pass for a touchdown and the Bearcats cut it to 37-10. For Waugh, usually a linebacker, it was his first career catch and touchdown. While it was good to see a senior like Waugh that's worked so hard find the endzone, it would have been much more meaningful if UC wasn't getting their behinds handed to them on defense and had a shot at stopping the Urban Meyer Florida offense.
Predictably, Tebow rifled through the porous Bearcat "D" again, breaking the Sugar Bowl record for total offense IN JUST THE THIRD QUARTER. In the end, he ran one in to make it 44-10.
After the game, Florida Coach Urban Meyer said of Tebow, "He's one of the greatest players ever to play college football."
Based on the evidence, it was hard to disagree.
For Florida fans and Tebow, his last collegiate game was everything they could possibly wish for. His numbers were astronomical and probably could've been even more. His performance reminded of watching Bill Walton as a kid in an NCAA basketball final with UCLA where he made almost every shot.
"It was incredible," Tebow said in the post-game. "Just a great game. It was exactly how you want to go out with these seniors and these coaches in your last game and your last time together. It just really doesn't get any better than this."
You may not like Tim Tebow because you're sick of hearing of him. You may think he's overexposed and you may think a lot of things. I watched him walk into the Superdome waving in his suit and tie as if he were the Governor. Then, I watched him go through extensive warm-ups where he threw, he ran, he ran routes, he caught passes, he did everything. Truth is, he's an excellent player who backs everything up that anyone says about him. To hear people wonder about if he's a pro or not is sheer lunacy. Based on what I saw, he can play quarterback, running back, tight end and probably linebacker and safety if need be.
As the fourth quarter started, with UC being outgained 508 yards to 139, the only thing the Bearcats could hang their special white hats on was that they'd only lost the third quarter 14-7. It still had to be demoralizing to hear the Florida blue and orange folks chanting,"SEC" in a taunting fashion.
To give you an idea of how ineffective the UC defense was, Florida's first punt took place at 14:05 in the fourth quarter. Of course, you can't pin it all on UC's defense as Tebow and the Gator offense were absolutely flawless at times.
"Tim Tebow is a great leader, and he leads his troops into battle, and they succeed," said UC senior Andre Revels.
UC did move the ball at times in the second half and put another score on the board with just over 10 minutes left when Tony Pike found Armon Binns for six. While it was nice to see Pike and Binns finally hook up, it was honestly a "garbage time" score. But, after getting wailed on most of the game, anything giving fans a reason to cheer is good. Airfare, hotels, long drives, etc. aren't easy--especially when you're team's losing badly.
Naturally, the good feeling was short-lived, as Tebow led Florida on another quick drive adding to his super human numbers. I said before the game that Tebow didn't have an "S" on his chest and UC shouldn't be intimidated. Having seen it in person now, the guy should have an "S" on his chest because he was unstoppable on this night. (Apparently UC was unable to procure any kryptonite from Dr. Voodoo's shop on Bourbon Street.)
I suppose out of admiration, UC pulled out their "Wildcat/Tebow" look after months in mothballs when Travis Kelce came in for a couple plays. He did run for 19 yards, but try as he might, he's not Tim Tebow.
While it was borderline punishment having to watch Tebow riddle the Bearcat defense for all of those yards, UC fans can at least say they saw arguably the best college football player of the decade in person.
That wouldn't have happened at the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
65,207 took in "Tebowstock" Friday night. Years from now, Florida fans will say it was his greatest night ever, while UC fans probably will come around and speak favorably of the lefty.
If you're into numbers, outside of Alabama in the SEC championship game, the Bearcats 24 points was the most Florida had given up all season. But, let's be honest, it could've been a lot worse.
With 3:24 left, Urban Meyer lifted "Superman" in favor of back-up John Brantley. Tebow's final numbers: 14 carries for 51 yards and a touchdown, 31-35 passing for 482 yards and three touchdowns. In doing so he collected 533 yards in total offense and obliterated most Sugar Bowl records. 51-24 Florida was your final as the Gator faithful went off to do that annoying chopping motion all up and down the French Quarter.
And thus, the final offensive play of the "white helmet era" turned out to be a six-yard touchdown pass from Tony Pike to Kazeem Alli with 3:43 left in the game giving UC it's final points. Minutes later the Florida offense ran it's final plays and that was that.
As the Sugar Bowl came to an end, so did the most confusing month in the history of UC football. A month ago, the Bearcats had an improbable win and all of the momentum in the world heading into their second BCS bowl game.
Then a coach left despite an unblemished season, another one was hired and an interim was given the charge of beating the defending national champions.
"It has nothing to do with our team's effort," said Jeff Quinn. "But it doesn't help, you know? It's never easy to have coaching changes right before your season ends. It's hard to do. You go through this thing all together. And it's just like a player not being there that's a key guy. Just like your head coach, Brian Kelly. To lose him at this point was not an easy thing to do. But at the same time, you know, we made the best of it. I'm proud of it, the work our kids put in to get ready for this game."
The coaching staff at UC did their best, but realistically, most of them aren't going to be around next season. Realistically, the staff and players couldn't have been as focused as they might have been if things were status quo like they were a month ago.
"The Cincinnati Bearcats this year have been counted out 13 times," said a defiant Andre Revels. "12 times in a row we came away with a victory. One time, one time you guys got it right, and that's today. But don't take anything away from our credibility. Our record speaks for itself."
Still, Brian Kelly sits somewhere tonight around South Bend with a job ahead of him, but another left uncompleted.
Onto the 2010 season and Butch Jones and (hopefully) "Back In Black"!