Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
MIAMI -- Coming into the game, Oklahoma's defensive prowess was disparaged as just another bad Big 12 defense.
But something happened between those taunts and the way the Sooners played in Thursday night's FedEx BCS National Championship Game.
The Sooners dropped their fifth straight BCS bowl and third national title game in a row as Florida gradually wore them down 24-14. But it wasn't the fault of the defense, which limited the Gators to their lowest scoring total of the season and had Oklahoma in position to win heading into the fourth quarter.
"People can still disrespect us, but they felt us out there every play," Oklahoma safety Lendy Holmes said. "They can call us a joke, but we took the smack and showed them out there with our play. We proved something to people -- we left it all out there."
The Sooners rattled Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who had been intercepted only twice in 268 attempts this season coming into the game. Tebow was picked off twice in his first 16 throws on Thursday night.
Lack of offensive production ultimately did the Sooners in as they were unable to produce any points resulting from the two early turnovers.
"We did show them something," said Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who contributed one of the Sooners' two interceptions. "Tebow hadn't thrown a pick in the first half all season and we got two. We had them rattled, but with a guy like that, you just have to stay on him. We gave him some light and he capitalized and made plays."
Tebow gradually wore the Sooners down, wrapping up the game with three scoring drives during a span of four possessions midway through the second half. The Gators marched 75 yards for a touchdown, 68 yards for a field goal and 76 yards for a clinching touchdown to wrap up the victory.
"It was right out there for us, just like it was for them," McCoy said. "They took advantage and made plays when they had to. It was right there for both teams, but they just wanted it more."
In the process, Florida converted 12 of 17 third downs, including three straight third-down plays in the fourth quarter.
"Down the stretch, we've got to make the plays that are presented to us," Oklahoma safety Nic Harris said. "We just weren't as opportunistic as we thought."
Tebow was masterful in third-down execution, blistering the Sooners on two straight runs on third down in the third quarter to keep the drive alive. Percy Harvin scored on a 2-yard touchdown on another third-down play to give Florida the lead at 14-7.
But the clinching drive was even more disappointing for Oklahoma. The Gators twice converted third-and-long situations after they had been penalized on the play before.
"It was disappointing because we just couldn't get them off the field when we needed to," McCoy said. "But give them credit and give Tebow credit. He made some big plays when his team needed them."
Florida was expected to run up pinball numbers against an Oklahoma defense that ranked 57th nationally in points per game, 63rd in yards per game, 90th in allowing 20-plus yard plays and 89th in red zone defense.
But the Sooners disproved those doubters by holding Florida to 14 points through three quarters. It was the kind of defensive performance Oklahoma players thought would be enough to win the game.
And in the process, the Oklahoma defense said their performance stifled the doubters on Thursday night.
"We as a defense knew that was something we were capable of doing," Harris said. "It was the critics and the media that didn't believe. We went out and played pretty well. I don't think they're saying that about us now."