GAMEDAY: Tim Tebow and Greg McElroy look back at the 2009 SEC Championship

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MCT

South Carolina defensive end Clifton Geathers (96) sacks Florida quarterback Tim Tebow in the fourth quarter of play at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina, on Saturday, November 14, 2009. Florida won the game 24-14. (Gerry Melendez/The State/MCT) Tribune News Service

Elliott Propes

Two SEC network analyst, Tim Tebow and Greg McElroy will be covering a matchup this weekend that they were both once a part of. Just six years ago in 2009, they were opposing quarterbacks playing against each other for a shot at the national title. The 2009 SEC championship featured No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Florida, and it was a rematch from the season before in which Florida won at the end. This time though, Alabama would get its revenge and win handily 32-13.

“I think it was a great game plan by Nick Saban, but I think really one of the keys in that game was four or five big plays that changed the momentum of the game, which changed the outcome of the game,” Tebow said. “I think with 18-22-year-olds momentum is so underrated, I think it’s so valuable, and I think it plays into the outcome of a lot of college football games.”

One of those plays was in the second quarter on a 3rd and 5 play. With no one open, McElroy tucked the football and made a miraculous runs down the sideline, tip-toeing across the first down marker, prompting CBS broadcaster Verne Lundquist to yell “Wow!” The play is now accompanied with the word “Focus” on the pregame video shown on the jumbotron before every home game.

“I think it was about 75 percent luck and 25 percent physics,” McElroy said. “It was one of the things that my momentum was carrying me out, but I knew I had a couple yards in which I wasn’t going to be contested. It was more luck than anything, people ask me how I did that before, and I don’t think I could do it again. I was never much of a hopscotch player.”

That play got momentum for Alabama in that drive, which was capped off with a field goal to extend the lead to 12-3. The momentum carried on.

“One thing we really did a good job of in that game was exploiting matchups. I think that’s one thing Jim McElwain has always done a really good job of in featuring players,” McElroy said. “He knew Joe Haden was unbelievable on the outside, he did a really good job, but he was a little vulnerable when he came inside because he didn’t play there as much. So we tried make sure that Julio [Jones] played in the slot as often as humanly possible. So that was a point of emphasis. We knew that Brandon Spikes was outstanding against the run, but could be a little vulnerable against the pass. So the screen game and things like that we wanted to be a priority.”

Nearing the end of the half, McElwain called one of those screens to Heisman winner Mark Ingram. Florida sent a corner blitz, which opened up the field and Alabama laid perfect blocks on Brandon Spikes and others. Ingram scampered 69 yards before another corner caught up with him at the three-yard line. Ingram would then punch it in the next play to take a 19-13 halftime lead.

“When Alabama jumps on people, that momentum is devastating to people,” Tebow said. “They hit those big plays on us. That was something, in that game, that we weren’t able to rally enough from to get back in it and then win it at the end.”

Alabama rode the momentum and didn’t let Florida score in the second half. It was a big win for Alabama, as they would go on to win the national championship. Afterwards, Alabama won two more SEC titles and two national championships and Florida hasn’t been back to Atlanta since, until now.

“This is obviously one of the mainstays as far as the SEC championship is concerned. Obviously Florida and Alabama having as much success as they have had since 1992, it makes it really compelling,” McElroy said. “I know considering the storylines of Jim McElwain against Nick Saban and all the players that have been around both and know them both it’s really an exciting and compelling matchup.”

No. 2 Alabama is once again vying for a shot at the national championship and with a SEC championship in hand, that shot will most likely be granted. In the way of that shot is Florida once again. Florida is back to national prominence with a 10-win season and for the first time since 2009 is back in the SEC championship game. No. 18 Florida might not have the firepower that Tebow’s team had, but it is definitely going to be a fun matchup to watch, especially with McElwain now patrolling the opposite sideline.

McElwain was offensive coordinator under Saban from 2008-2011, before he moved on to take the head coaching job at Colorado State. McElwain’s immediate success brought him back to the SEC as he was hired as the new Gators coach just this year. When asked, McElroy said that during his playing days, he knew McElwain had the potential to be a head coach and had much praise for the man.

“One thing that helped me out an awful lot was his confidence. When I would take the field, I believed there was nothing that I couldn’t do, in large part to how Jim McElwain approached the week and the trust I had in him. I thought he did a really nice job with making me feel good about the plan every single week, making sure that I did not have any questions about what we were doing offensively,” McElroy said. “I just think the world of him as a person, and I love his family and I love him as a coach. He’s obviously done an incredible job really overachieving in year one with Florida. If you look at the personnel they and in spring and how much that personnel has improved from then until now, it is absolutely off the charts. It’s a real testament to his ability to coach.”

McElwain had Florida riding high at 6-0, but he had to face some adversity when his starting quarterback Will Grier was suspended for performance enhancing drugs. Ever since Grier’s suspension, Treon Harris has started and the team has struggled offensively, losing two games. Tebow said he believes Harris will have to minimize mistakes for Florida to have a chance.

“I think he is a talented kid,” Tebow said. “I think he has shown at times what he can do. What needs to improve is his consistency, and the ability to get it out of his hands a little bit quicker and being able to let playmakers run with it a little more early. He can not take big losses and he cannot force the football its thinks its going to be key to let special teams, defense and maybe the running game take over. And if he can find a few ways to make big plays with his legs or big plays down the field that would be key to giving Florida a chance in the football game.”

Tebow and McElroy will return to the desk for SEC Nation on Saturday to break down the game even further. The two former quarterbacks were dominant in their time, and are glad that the matchup is renewed.

“I’m looking forward to an exciting weekend, and something that was a pretty good rivalry in the past,” Tebow said. “I think it will be an exciting game come again this Saturday.”