Florida's Tebow throws for 300 yards, 3 TDs in debut as starter

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (ESPN.com news services) -- Tim Tebow ran out of bounds following a short gain and got a forearm to the chest from Western Kentucky's Cody Hughes.

"I think that was the hardest hit of the day," Tebow said.

It certainly was one of the few times Tebow was touched.

Tebow and Florida had an even easier day than expected against Western Kentucky. The Gators didn't even have to play 60 minutes.

Tebow completed 13 of 17 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score, and the sixth-ranked Gators opened defense of their national championship with a 49-3 victory over Western Kentucky on Saturday that was called with 8:23 left in the fourth quarter because of lightning.

The weather -- there was a 1 hour, 2 minute delay -- was about the only thing that stopped the Gators.

"You could see throughout the whole preseason that it was going to be this style of offense," said Andre Caldwell, who caught three passes for 103 yards and a touchdown.

Florida won its SEC-leading 18th consecutive season opener and its eighth straight overall, tied for the fourth-longest streak in Bowl Subdivision. The Gators have also won 16 straight at home, the nation's third-longest streak.

Tebow, making his first career start, led Florida (1-0) to touchdowns in its first four possessions. He completed his first six passes for 156 yards and two TDs, proving he can be as dynamic with his arm as he can his legs.

"Overall, very impressed with the way he threw the ball," Gators coach Urban Meyer said.

With his first throw, Tebow hit Caldwell in stride down the sideline for a 48-yard gain. Later in the first, he faked a step toward the line of scrimmage, then dropped back and connected with Riley Cooper for a 59-yard score.

His perfect strike to Percy Harvin made it 21-0 in the second quarter.

The left-handed sophomore wasn't done, either.

He had two equally impressive throws on consecutive plays in the third. He hooked up with Caldwell for a 43-yard gain, then found Cooper for a 42-yard score.

"I think Urban wanted to showcase his arm and prove to the media and the people in the world that he was a great throwing quarterback, and he went out there and threw for 300 yards," Caldwell said. "You can't ask for too much [more] from a first-year starter in his first game."

Tebow and Meyer fielded countless questions about the quarterback's throwing ability leading up to the season. Can he be accurate? Can he throw deep? Will he run too much or too often?

So far, so good. Then again, the real test comes in two weeks against Tennessee.

The Hilltoppers (0-1) didn't provide much of a challenge in the first game of their two-year transition from the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) to the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A).

The Gators were bigger and stronger on both lines and faster and more skilled everywhere else.

Florida's defense, however, had some struggles despite giving up just a field goal. But those were anticipated after losing nine starters and replacing them several underclassmen.

"There were some confusions out there, but that's what you get when you have a young defense," safety Tony Joiner said. "It's going to be a lot cleaner for us."

Western Kentucky put together a 62-yard drive to open the game, then failed to convert a fourth-and-1 at the 10. Making matters worse, quarterback David Wolke suffered a concussion during the drive and never returned.

Backup K.J. Black also left the game in the third quarterback because of a foot injury. He later returned, but was obviously slowed by the injury.

"The first time I got out there, getting ready to take the snap, the crowd kind of kicked in and I was like, 'Wow, I cannot hear myself think," said Black, who was 10-of-13 passing for 102 yards and was sacked three times. "It was rush. The sideline is not the same as it is on the field."

The Hilltoppers finished with 204 yards -- considerably more than the Gators allowed (82 yards) in the national championship game against Ohio State.

Florida was much more productive behind Tebow, who was hand-picked by Meyer to run his spread-option offense.

Tebow played mostly in short-yardage and goal-line situations last season, subbing for starter Chris Leak and providing an offensive spark when needed.

His role changed significantly this season, as did the offense.

Meyer said the offense would look much more like those at Utah and Bowling Green, Meyer's previous two coaching stops. The Gators fit the part Saturday even though no quarterback runs were called.

Still, Tebow scrambled for 38 yards, juking defenders more often than trying to run over them.

He got hit twice out of bounds, though. The first one drew a 15-yard personal foul penalty. There was no call on the second one -- the forearm from Hughes.

"I guess it's not that safe getting out of bounds anymore," Tebow said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.