for this game

Florida stifles Bradford, beats Oklahoma for national title

Jan 9, 2009 - 8:08 AM MIAMI (Ticker) -- Florida chomped down on Sam Bradford, slowing Oklahoma's record-setting offense to a virtual crawl.

In doing so, Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer were able to bring another national championship trophy home to "The Swamp."

Tebow threw two touchdown passes and the second-ranked Gators intercepted Bradford twice en route to a 24-14 victory over top-ranked Oklahoma in Thursday's BCS championship game at Dolphin Stadium.

"I'm so proud of my teammates (that) came out here and battled for four quarters and played with so much heart," said Tebow, who was named the game's MVP. "I wanted to do whatever I could to help my team win this game."

It was the third national championship in Florida school history and the program's second under Meyer, who has brought the Gators back to the top of the college football world since arriving in Gainesville less than five years ago.

"I'm going to enjoy this one," Meyer said. "You know why, because I've got a team I can trust.

"Some guys are going to make some decisions on their careers here in the next few days. I know one thing, we've got a very, very good team coming back. So we're going to get to work but we're going to enjoy this one. They deserve it."

Conversely, it was another big-game flop for coach Bob Stoops and the Sooners, who have lost their last three bids for the national title and fell to 0-5 in their last five BCS bowls.

"We came up a play or two short, they made them," Stoops said. "But it was a heck of a game, and I'm just proud of our players."

Stoops did not acknowledge being disappointed in his recent BCS record.

"In the end, I'll be glad to try it again next year," he said. "If that's the biggest burden I have to bear in my life, I'll be a pretty lucky guy."

Billed as a potential shootout between two of the nation's top offenses, the game was scoreless after one quarter, setting the stage for what would become a slugfest dominated by the Gators' defense.

The slow-paced contest undoubtedly opened the door for further debate regarding college football's process of determining a champion.

Although the Gators (13-1) were the best team at Dolphin Stadium, supporters of undefeated Utah or fans of one-loss powerhouses like Southern California or Texas certainly will claim that Florida is an undeserving BCS champion.

Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes, for one, is satisfied with the current BCS system.

"We played in the national championship game today," Spikes said. "That's the way the bowl system is set up. It is what it is, and I think the best team won tonight."

Hours after their victory, the Gators were installed as a near-unanimous No. 1 in the final coaches' poll, claiming 60 of a possible 61 first-place votes.

The season-ending balloting, however, meant little to Meyer.

"We're going to enjoy a big win, we're going to enjoy the national championship," he said. "Let someone else worry about (the rankings.)"

Oklahoma scored an NCAA-record 702 points during its first 13 games and put up at least 60 points in each of its previous five contests, also a national record.

But the Gators completely stifled the Sooners, holding them to just 363 yards from scrimmage by constantly harassing Bradford.

"Obviously they're a great defense," said Bradford, who was sacked twice. "I don't know if it's one thing that they did tonight. I think there were a couple times where we got ourselves in trouble by getting ourselves behind the chains, forcing ourselves into bad situations."

"We really wanted to stop their run, and we had some success with that," Spikes said. "When they tried to pass the ball, we got them out of that early."

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Bradford passed for 256 yards and two touchdowns for Oklahoma (12-2), which was held to its lowest single-game point total in over 15 months.

The redshirt sophomore threw a pair of costly interceptions, including one with 10 minutes remaining in the contest that halted a potential go-ahead drive.

Tebow, who won the 2007 Heisman, outplayed his signal-calling counterpart, passing for 231 yards while grinding out 109 on the ground. The junior also was a major contributor as a reserve on Florida's 2006 national title squad, which won the championship in its second season under Meyer.

"They were hitting to the whistle, that's for sure," Tebow said. "They were doing a good job of getting to me and trying to get some licks. But I felt my body was able to withstand it, and I felt pretty good when the game ended."

"(Tebow) is a great guy, a great character guy," Oklahoma defensive back Nic Harris added. "He can beat you with his feet, obviously, which you just saw. He's one of those guys that you give him your best shot, he's going to get back up."

The Sooners forged a 14-14 tie with 12:13 remaining when Bradford capped an eight-play drive with his second TD pass of the game, an 11-yard catch-and-run to tight end Jermaine Gresham.

But Florida responded quickly thanks to speedster Percy Harvin, who ripped off runs of 52 and 12 yards to advance the Gators to Oklahoma's 11-yard line. Jonathan Phillips' 28-yard field goal with 10:45 remaining gave Florida the lead for good at 17-14.

Bradford and the Sooners quickly moved the ball to midfield on the ensuing drive.

But the tide turned when Bradford's long pass over the middle went through the hands of wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias and was intercepted by safety Ahmad Black, who made an acrobatic move to cradle the ball in his right arm and retain possession before hitting the ground.

"The play of the game was Ahmad Black snatching the ball away from the receiver," Meyer said. "We're up by three and that's a potential go-ahead touchdown."

That set the stage for Tebow, who orchestrated a game-clinching drive with his arm, legs and uncanny decision-making. He completed all six of his pass attempts on the 11-play march and helped the Gators convert a pair of long third downs.

After hooking up with tight end Aaron Hernandez for a 9-yard shovel pass on 3rd-and-6 from the Oklahoma 16, Tebow gave Florida a 24-14 lead two plays later with one of his patented moves, a 4-yard rollout jump-throw to David Nelson with 3:07 remaining.

"It's a perfect ending to a perfect season," Nelson said.

Harvin, who missed the SEC championship game with a high ankle sprain, did not appear hampered by the injury. The junior ran for 122 yards, hauled in five receptions for 49 yards and gave Florida a 14-7 lead with his 2-yard TD run late in the third quarter.

"That was one of the guttiest performances I've ever been around," Meyer said. "And to look at the statistics, (Harvin) had almost 200 yards of total offense for us."

Oklahoma's Chris Brown also was productive on the ground, finishing with 110 yards on 22 carries.

But the high-powered Sooners were kept in check, largely because Florida dominated time of possession. The Gators held the ball for nearly 35 minutes and converted 12-of-17 third downs.

"(Going) 12-of-17 on third down, 4-of-4 in the red zone, that's where the game was won," Meyer said.

The teams entered halftime tied at 7-7 in an opening 30 minutes highlighted by two crucial stops from Florida's defense.

Oklahoma appeared to gain momentum when defensive tackle Gerald McCoy intercepted Tebow at the Gators' 26-yard line. But after moving the ball to within inches of the goal line, Oklahoma came up empty on the drive when Brown was stuffed on two consecutive running plays.

The second tackle was made by defensive tackle Torrey Davis, who tripped up Brown at the 2-yard line.

After forcing Florida to punt on the ensuing possession, Oklahoma turned to Bradford, who completed seven straight passes and drove the Sooners to the Gators' 6 following an 11-yard strike to Gresham.

But with 10 seconds left in the first half and the score still tied at 7-7, Bradford was intercepted near the goal line by safety Major Wright.

"I tried to force one in there," Bradford admitted. "I probably should have just thrown it in the back of the end zone and taken the three points."

"Those were big factors in the game, being down in the red zone in those two occasions and end up with nothing," Stoops added.

After a scoreless first quarter, Florida took the first lead of the game when Tebow hooked up with Louis Murphy for a 20-yard touchdown less than a minute into the second quarter.

Facing a 3rd-and-9, Tebow evaded a defender and rolled to his right before finding Murphy, who broke Dominique Franks' tackle before stretching the ball across the goal line to give Florida a 7-0 lead with 14:02 left in the first half.

The touchdown punctuated a 12-play, 86-yard drive in which the Gators converted three third downs.

Oklahoma was not nearly as deliberate, answering with a lightning-quick, six-play drive capped by Bradford's 6-yard scoring strike to Gresham.