2008 Golden Bowl Tournament: Sugar Bowl Semifinal

Sugar Bowl: #3 Texas v. #2 Florida
The biggest test of which conference, the Big 12 or SEC, was truly better over the course of the season provided vindication for a number of different groups, and left people wondering what might have been had the quarterfinals gone just a bit differently.

Truth be told, the Sugar Bowl was not much of a fight. That was the case pretty much from the opening bell. Two Chris Rainey runs put the Gators in Texas territory, and a Tebow throw to Riley Cooper (one of only two completed passes all day) made up for a holding penalty and set up a Rainey draw for the first down, setting up a quick field goal. After an encroachment penalty against the Gators, Cody Johnson broke open a long run to get the Longhorns in Gator territory, but they went three-and-out from there and Jeffery Demps left the defense in his wake on a 74-yard touchdown run. The next Florida drive, following a three-and-out, started with good field position right behind midfield and ended with the second Tebow completion, to Tate Casey for a 37-yard touchdown, but the extra point was shanked. Tebow couldn’t complete a pass the rest of the day, and the former Heisman winner was neutered on the ground, rushing 11 times but for a net loss of 3 yards (though that was probably a result of taking knees at the end of the game). This game would be won with the key ingredients of any football championship: running and defense. In particular, Rainey would be named the game’s MVP after running 14 times for 150 yards, and Percy Harvin and Demps also ran for over 100 yards each.

Texas would tack on a field goal before the end of the quarter, but Rainey started the second with a 53-yard touchdown run – another reason he would be named MVP, coupled with his second later in the game. Colt McCoy led his team methodically down the field again, relying mostly on himself, both throwing (5 for 6) and running (27 yards on 3 carries), ending with his one touchdown completion, to Jordan Shipley. But it would be the last time Texas scored. Florida tacked on another field goal, and not only did Texas go three-and-out twice before the half, they got the ball a third time before the half, pinned on their own 6, and proceeded to get McCoy sacked in the end zone, bringing the score to an even 28 to Texas’ 10. Florida managed to get the ball back so close they went for a field goal before the half, but the 51-yard attempt was just too long for Jonathan Phillips to make.

Not that it really mattered, because the Gators blew the game open in the second half. Texas still didn’t pick up a first down until their second drive of the half, by which point Florida had already scored again, thanks to a 58-yard run by Harvin on their first play from scrimmage that set the Gators up on the 22. The Longhorns would get just close enough to be in “no-man’s-land”, too close to punt but too far out to kick a field goal, and wound up unsuccessfully going for it on fourth and 2. Texas in fact seemed to have the momentum for a chunk of the third quarter, forcing a three-and-out before Vondrell McGee put them in field goal territory, but the 42 yard attempt sailed left. A McCoy fumble to start the fourth quarter, followed by three quick runs by Rainey, Harvin, and Kestahn Moore into the end zone, snuffed out that flame of hope and gave Florida a commanding 42-10 lead. Rainey’s second touchdown would come with 2:40 left in the game, just to drive one more nail in the Longhorns’ coffin, and bringing vindication to those who felt Oklahoma should have been in the Big 12 title game.
Final score: Texas 10, Florida 49

Final Round matchups:
Fiesta Bowl: #5 Penn State v. #3 Texas
Penn State’s rock-hard defense (that has proven to be a little less than rock-hard in this tournament) against Colt McCoy and the astounding Texas offense. The Nittany Lions will need to play like Linebacker U. if they want to capture the third-place title.

Golden Bowl II: #9 USC v. #2 Florida
The National Championship game pits two teams that know the key to winning a championship is a fantastic defense. Both also sport amazing playmakers on offense, with USC keyed by Mark Sanchez and Joe McKnight and Florida led by Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin. Florida has long been considered better tested by their schedule, but beyond Alabama, Georgia, and Ole Miss they didn’t play much of anybody (at least if you believe some Big 12 partisans), while USC had to face a real team in the first round and had to dispatch the #1 seed in the tournament on the road in the second. And the way Tebow has been mostly neutered, it’s not out of the question to think USC could do it again, and shut down the rest of the Florida offense in the process… then again, Florida’s defense has actually been as good as advertised, unlike Penn State’s…

Fiesta Bowl coming next weekend. The Golden Bowl will be played over Martin Luther King weekend.

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