Top-ranked Gators hold off Bulldogs' upset bid in Starkville

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Tim Tebow couldn't get out of Davis-Wade Stadium fast enough.

The usually affable Heisman Trophy winner declined requests for interviews and quickly boarded the team bus Saturday night after another question-raising win for the Gators (No. 1 BCS, No. 2 AP).

Sure, Florida beat Mississippi State and Tebow's old mentor Dan Mullen 29-19, extending the nation's longest winning streak to 17. But after having two interceptions returned for touchdowns, Tebow wasn't talking and coach Urban Meyer was still searching for answers.

"I did not coach well tonight," Meyer said. "I put Tim in some tough situations. As an offense, we're not well right now."

After Alabama (No. 2 BCS, No. 1 AP) needed a blocked field goal on the game's last play to beat Tennessee 12-10, the Gators might have had a chance to grab the top-ranking back in the AP poll.

But Florida worked almost as hard putting away the Bulldogs as Alabama did against the Vols.

It took a failed fake punt by Mississippi State to set up one fourth-quarter touchdown for Florida. And the Gators (7-0, 5-0 SEC) all but clinched the game on interception return for a touchdown by Dustin Doe, during which the showboating linebacker might have both fumbled and stepped out of bounds before reaching the end zone.

Doe's TD made it 29-13 with 8:25 left in the fourth.

Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks returned interceptions 100 and 20 yards to keep the Bulldogs (3-5, 1-3) close enough to make Florida nervous. The Bulldogs kept Tebow and Co. out of the end zone on four of five trips into the red zone.

Tebow and the Gators had little trouble moving the ball outside the 20, even scoring on a 26-yard run in the second quarter. But once the Gators got close to the goal line Tebow was beset by rushers and confused by coverage.

"Tim's not trying to be a hero," Meyer said. "But we might be asking him to do too much."

Despite a stellar performance from the defense, even without injured All-American linebacker Brandon Spikes (groin) and two defensive linemen, the Gators found themselves in a struggle in the fourth quarter for the second consecutive week -- mostly because they couldn't punch the ball into the end zone when they got close.

Florida entered the game 76th in the nation red-zone efficiency.

"The problem is they've got a coach that wants to score so damn bad that he's pressing them and some of those guys aren't ready for that," Meyer said of himself.

Thirty-three seconds wiped away all those problems, however.

Mullen, who helped the Gators win two of the last three national titles as offensive coordinator, felt his team needed a big play down 16-13 midway through the fourth quarter.

He called for a fake punt on fourth and 2 from the Bulldogs 27 and watched Robert Elliott take the pitch from the punter on the reverse and appear to run for daylight. But Elliott stumbled as he tried to make a cut.

"It wasn't like we were churning up and down the field on offense," Mullen said. "It was a key point. I felt we needed a play. They'd been coming after us on punts. I thought we had it."

Instead the Gators had a first down at the Bulldogs 22.

Six plays later, including a fourth-and-short conversion by Tebow, Chris Rainey found a seam and darted into the end zone from 8 yards out. The Gators finally had some cushion, 23-13.

Two plays after Rainey's touchdown, Doe grabbed Tyson Lee's deflected pass at the 23 and found a path to the end zone.

But the linebacker started celebrating and slowing down before the goal line and wide receiver Brandon McRae knocked the ball out of Doe's hand. It was ruled a touchdown and it stood up on video review. It also appeared that Doe stepped out of bounds on replays shown in the stadium. Had the score been overturned, the Bulldogs could have had the ball at the 20, or at least had a chance to make another goal-line stand.

"We knew they liked to get the ball to Tebow there," said defensive end Pernell McPhee, who chased Tebow all night. "I felt like we frustrated them and made them do some new things they did not usually do tonight. They got in the I formation tonight and that is the first time I have ever seen them do that."

Meyer also thought Mullen's knowledge of Tebow and the Florida offense paid off.

"We just could not figure it out," receiver David Nelson said. "I give coach Mullen credit. He knew some of the stuff we would be doing and put together a way to stop it."

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