Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
STARKVILLE, Miss. - There were a couple of firsts for Florida quarterback Tim Tebow on Saturday night at Scott Field, neither one the kind we've grown accustomed to from the Gators' record-setting quarterback.
He threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns by Mississippi State freshman Johnthan Banks, the first one putting the Bulldogs right back in the game when it looked like the Gators were about to take command at the end of the first half.
The second pick was even more inexplicable. Tebow was trying to throw out of his own end zone with less than four minutes to play and the game already in hand when he was hit by Mississippi State's Pernell McPhee, and the ball fluttered right to Banks.
And then after the game, which No. 1 Florida hung on and won 29-19 despite repeated woes in the red zone and a determined effort by Dan Mullen's Bulldogs, Tebow declined to talk to the media for the first time in his career.
At least, the first time he was healthy enough to talk to the media after a game.
Several Florida officials were asked about Tebow's availability, but they said he opted not to come down and speak with reporters and was already on the bus.
So all the way around, it wasn't one of Tebow's better performances, especially for a guy who's been showered with positive publicity throughout his career.
But Tebow wasn't the only no-show. So was the Gators' offense any time it sniffed the Bulldogs' goal line, which is quickly becoming a trend. They've scored touchdowns on just two of their last 15 trips inside the red zone.
The frustration in Florida coach Urban Meyer's voice was obvious as he did his best to take the blame for an offense that's clearly not hitting on all cylinders right now.
"I didn’t coach very well," Meyer said. "I put Tim in some tough situations down in the red zone. Our red zone offense right now is really an issue and something we’ll get on during the plane ride home."
How's this for perspective: A true freshman safety for the Bulldogs (Banks) scored as many touchdowns as the Gators' offense did the entire game.
Meyer was candid about the pressure starting to get to his club. He said there were too many people on the team pressing to live up to the No. 1 billing, and it starts with him.
"I think they’re pressing like crazy, and I think the head coach wants to score so damn bad that he’s not used to this," Meyer said. "I’m not used to it. But even more important to me, those people in that (locker) room aren’t used to it. You make a call or something, and I can feel it. I mean, I’m pressing … score, score, do this, do that ... and we do things we shouldn’t be doing."
In SEC wins over Tennessee, LSU, Arkansas and Mississippi State this season, the Gators have scored just seven offensive touchdowns. There were single games a year ago where they could have scored seven offensive touchdowns had they left the pedal to the metal in the fourth quarter.
But this isn't last year, nor is this last year's offense.
"The game of football is people making plays, and we just have to step up and make more," Florida center Maurkice Pouncey said.
Asked specifically what was going on in the red zone, Pouncey answered, "No comment."
Once again, the Gators' downfield passing game wasn't very effective, and Tebow finished 12-of-22 for 127 yards. He was also sacked three times and ended up with 22 rushing attempts. He's now carried the ball 121 times this season. He carried it 234 times as a sophomore during his Heisman Trophy season.
Meyer balked at the notion that Tebow was trying to do too much.
"No, we might be asking him to do too much," said Meyer, who kept his team in the locker room for a long time after the game was over.
His message to his players was to not allow themselves to be splintered. In other words, he doesn't want to hear any offense vs. defense talk.
The truth is, though, that the defense is carrying this team right now.
"I think the best football for the Florida Gators is still yet to come," senior linebacker Ryan Stamper said. "We haven’t played our best football on both sides of the ball, and we’re still 7-0.
"I look at that as a plus."