No Harvin, no problem for Gators
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
ATLANTA -- Even in the realm of the Gator Nation, they're not household names.
|Dale Zanine/US Presswire|
|Wide receiver Riley Cooper may not be a household name, but he helped lead the Florida Gators to an SEC Championship.|
But as we were reminded Saturday in the SEC Championship Game, there's no such thing as hanger-ons at Florida.
Not with Percy Harvin standing on the sideline and wearing warm-up pants.
"All year, guys have stepped up and made plays," Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen said. "We're at our best when we spread the ball around to everybody, when we use all our weapons.
"They know, 'If I get the opportunity, even if it's just one play, that I better make it because 84 other guys are depending on me,' so when their number is called, they make it."
Moore, Nelson and Cooper were all on the receiving end of Tim Tebow touchdown passes in Florida's 31-20 win over Alabama. They weren't the only ones coming up big in Harvin's absence, either. Senior receiver Louis Murphy led the Gators with four catches for 86 yards, while sophomore tight end Aaron Hernandez was right behind him with three catches for 43 yards.
Harvin, out with a sprained right ankle, wasn't the only weapon missing from the Gators' arsenal. Running back Chris Rainey, hampered by a groin injury, carried the ball just once and played sparingly.
"It just shows you that we have a lot of hungry players on this team," Murphy said. "Even the guys who don't normally get a lot of balls were ready. That's the way it is on this team."
Nelson, whose 5-yard touchdown catch put Florida ahead 17-10 in the second quarter, didn't really know for sure that Harvin wasn't going to play in the game until everybody started getting onto the buses at the team hotel.
"He didn't ride with the team, and that's when it hit me," Nelson said. "I knew it was my time, that I had to step up. I'd been challenging myself all week long. Even if Percy played, I knew he wasn't going to be 100 percent.
"I just kept telling myself, 'The team needs you.' It was the biggest game of my life, the biggest game of my career. Being able to help this team win is one of the greatest feelings I've had."
Several different times, Tebow was able to hit big plays down the field. He hit Cooper for 51 yards in the second quarter to set up a field goal. He hit Murphy for 34 yards in the third quarter and again for 33 yards in the fourth quarter.
And then on the clinching drive in the fourth quarter, Mullen dialed up one he'd been saving. He called for a shovel pass to Hernandez, and it popped wide open against the Alabama blitz down to the 6-yard line.
"Our kids never panicked, and we never got away from our game plan," Mullen said. "They kept executing and allowed us to finish it off there at the end."