NEW ORLEANS, La. – For a team that was suppose to be reeling after dropping the SEC title to Alabama and possibly losing their head coach due to poor health, Florida playing an undefeated Cincinnati on a cold New Year’s night in New Orleans was just what the doctor ordered.
The Gators chewed up the Bearcats, cruising to a 30-3 halftime lead. Then put the Big East champion away, 51-24, before 65,207 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Florida became the first program in FBS college football history to notch 13 wins in consecutive seasons.
Senior QB Tim Tebow, desperately wanting to silence NFL draft gurus vocal concerns about his ability to play the position at the next level, threw three first half touchdowns. Tebow finished his Gator career with a 35-6 (.854) record as a starting quarterback.
He passed for a Sugar Bowl and school record of 482 yards. His 82 yards rushing included a touchdown. The Gators set a new Sugar Bowl record for total offense with 659 yards.
Running back Emmanuel Moody subbing for an injured Jeff Demps rushed for two TDs. Demps left the game with a dislocated elbow in the opening quarter.
Backup running back Chris Rainey made it 50-17 with his six yard run. Riley Cooper caught seven passes for 181 yards. Aaron Hernandez, who is reportedly entering the NFL draft, and Demonte Thompson also caught scoring passes.
Cincinnati opened up the second half with a scoring drive. QB Tony Pike threw a two-yard TD pass to Marcus Waugh. Pike found Armon Mims along the sideline for the Bearcats second touchdown with 10:07 to play in the game. Ali Kazeem capped the scoring with a three-yard catch.
The Bearcats added a 47-yard field goal by Jacob Rogers.
Florida head coach Urban Meyer announced his resignation last week for health reasons, then decided to take a leave of absence instead. Meyer is now 6-1 in bowl games and a perfect 4-0 in BCS games. Meyer’s four BCS wins since 2005 are tied with USC’s Pete Carroll for the most by a head coach in that time frame.
The Gators lost to the Crimson Tide 32-13 in the SEC title game on Dec. 5.
Florida finished 13-1 for the third time in four seasons. This is the first time in FBS college football history that this has happened. With the victory, Florida improved to 5-1 in BCS bowl games.
SUGAR BOWL NOTEBOOK: Florida’s 25 seniors, the winningest class in SEC history, completed their careers with a 48-7 (.873) record in their time in the Orange and Blue. The group produced a 3-1 bowl record, claimed two National Championships, two SEC Championships, three SEC Eastern Division titles and registered a 15-4 (.789) record vs. ranked teams.
Florida junior cornerback Joe Haden has announced he will forego his final year of eligibility and declare for the 2010 NFL Draft.
Haden was a consensus first-team All-American this season as well as a finalist for the Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s top defensive back. The first-team All-SEC pick led the Gators with four interceptions, while contributing 68 tackles, three sacks, 10 pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
“We’re sad to see Joe go because he’s a great leader and a dynamic player,” said interim Gators head coach Steve Addazio. “But we know that with his tremendous talent, he will be a special player at the next level. This is the opportunity of a lifetime for Joe, and we wish him nothing but the best.”
Haden started all 40-career games that he played, and in 2007 became the first true freshman to ever start at cornerback for Florida. He finishes his career with eight interceptions and 218 tackles.
“This was a tough decision, and I spent a lot of time with my family talking about it,” said Haden. “I’m so proud that I had the chance to be a Gator. It’s been one of the best experiences of my life.”
The NFL Draft is scheduled for April 22-24.
D.J. Durkin and Stan Drayton were named to the football staff. Durkin will work with the Gators’ linebackers, while Drayton will work with UF’s running backs. Specific responsibilities will be determined once the entire staff is finalized.