In the end, Florida did exactly what I predicted they could and would do:
They beat LSU at LSU without Tim Tebow.
Now, obviously, Tim Tebow played (thrillingly) -- but it's not like he was TIM TEBOW, otherworldly greatest-player-of-all-time QB.
He was Tim Tebow, game-manager. He threw just 16 passes, with just one TD. He had 17 carries and averaged barely more than 2 yards per carry, with most of those 38 yards on a few key carries.
Oh, it was good enough -- more than enough, actually.
Why? For the same reasons I thought Florida would win the game with John Brantley at QB: Defense. Special Teams. Creating LSU turnovers and limiting their own. Red zone efficiency. Urban Meyer's "Plan to Win."
Meyer: "Obviously, Tim came out and played his heart out. Our offensive line did a good job of protecting him for the most part. We were somewhat conservative. So much of that game plan depends on how your defense is playing and special teams. Those two phases were tremendous. This is a great win."
It was a great win -- instantly, one of the Top 5 wins of the Tebow Era. Yes, because of the context of what the win was -- but also because of what the win was NOT. It was not "classic" Tebow, in that he was dominating. It was classic Tebow in that he did whatever was necessary to help Florida win the game -- even subordinating his style to fit the extreme situation.
"I'm not going to go out there and play tentative and scared. That's not me," Tebow said. "I did try to play smart."
The gameplan was so interesting in the first half -- it was a tentative offense, run by a seemingly tentative Tebow. And it worked -- thanks to the running backs. (Has Emmanuel Moody had a better game for Florida?)
In the second half, we saw a glimpse of -- as Meyer put it last week -- "Tim being Tim." Taking the ball himself and plunging up the middle. But this more conservative Tebow was still very effective, in his own non-spectacular way.
Coming into the game, I was EXTREMELY nervous about the prospects of Tebow playing -- I was concerned that he would exacerbate the concussion. And, yes, throughout the game, when they called his number, I cringed.
(Tebow had no such problems: "Actually I liked it. First time I got hit, everything felt good, I was like all right. I'm ready to go.")
And while I thought that Florida could beat LSU without Tebow playing like his 2007 or 2008 versions, I was thrilled to see him in there -- thrilled to see him playing within himself (even a temporarily conservative "himself") and within Florida's protectionist game plan.
And between Tebow, the running backs, Aaron Hernandez, the special teams (besides Sturgis' FG miss) and -- of course, more than anything -- the otherworldly defense, which might not just be the best in the country this season but among the best of all time, Florida is back on track as the team to beat.
Tebow is back. Not necessarily the old Tebow. But how could you not like this new Tebow?