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Is Tebow cracking under pressure?
Tebow 3 col BW

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Tim Tebow's pursuit of perfection might be causing him to play a little tight.

Florida coach Urban Meyer said Monday his star quarterback could be putting so much pressure on himself that it's causing the top-ranked Gators to bog down on offense, especially inside the 20-yard line.

"I would say that there's a chance that's true," Meyer said. "That's a fault of Tim that he sometimes wants to. ... I do believe that's an issue. But is it that a great issue? Now you've got to be able to coach through that and work through that."

Tebow already has more turnovers (eight) through seven games than he did in all of 2007 (six) or 2008 (six), and he's been sacked 15 times. He was sacked just 13 times in 2007 and 15 times in 14 games last season. His most glaring struggles are in the red zone.

In Southeastern Conference play, Florida (7-0, 5-0 SEC) has just seven touchdowns in 25 trips inside the 20-yard line — a 28-percent rate that is alarming. The Gators scored TDs on 27 of 37 trips (73 percent) last year and 30 of 44 trips (68 percent) in 2007.

There have been fumbles, interceptions, missed field goals, penalties and sacks. Meyer even said Monday the team made a mistake by going off the play-calling sheet in Saturday's 29-19 win at Mississippi State.

Tebow doesn't have any answers. He is clearly getting disheartened with his team's offensive woes. He blew off his postgame interview session for the first time in three years in Starkville, Miss.

"It's kind of new and it is frustrating," Tebow said Monday. "I'm not going to lie to you and say it's not frustrating because obviously we want to score (touchdowns) every time we get in the red zone, and the turnovers are frustrating, just things that we're not used to doing.

"It could possibly be a good thing because that could give us a little bit of edge of, 'Hey, we haven't arrived and we've still got a lot of work to do.' That's something to really motivate us because that's not us, that's not the way we've always played and it's just frustrating."

Tebow apologized for missing the interview session, saying he wanted to spend time with family members and his former position coach, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen. Tebow said Mullen told him to, "Just go win another title. Everything's in front of you."

For the defending national champions to repeat, they probably need to get better production near the goal line.

In an effort to fix the problems, Meyer kept his assistant coaches late into Sunday night to break down every red-zone snap of the season. They drew up a few new plays — maybe Tebow under center more often — and started practicing red-zone offense much earlier than normal.

Florida has taken 76 snaps inside the 20-yard line in SEC play, and the numbers offer a clear indication that something is amiss.

Tebow has carried 42 times for 76 yards and three touchdowns. He has been sacked five times and has two fumbles near the goal line, against Tennessee and Arkansas. Jeff Demps (11 carries for 57 yards and a TD), Chris Rainey (three for 12, TD) and Brandon James (one for 2) have been used considerably less.

Meyer acknowledged that the offense has been too predictable near the goal line.

Tebow also has struggled to throw the ball in the red zone. He has completed just four of 16 passes for 27 yards, with no touchdowns and an interception. Mississippi State returned the pick 100 yards for a score.

His numbers are even worse when analyzing 29 snaps inside the 10. Tebow has carried 16 times for 19 yards, with three touchdowns and a fumble. He has completed just one pass for 5 yards, with an interception. The one completion? It was a short pass to Aaron Hernandez, who fumbled.

"Tim Tebow is not playing at his highest level," Meyer said. "He's playing as hard as he ever can. But it's a multitude of stuff. We've got to do a better job of getting him in successful positions, and everybody else has to pick up their level of play."

The Gators will try to do things better Saturday against rival Georgia in Jacksonville.

The Gators are still undefeated and lead the SEC in scoring offense, rushing offense and total offense. But those numbers include lopsided wins against Charleston Southern and Troy to start the season. Anyone who has watched Florida in against SEC foes Tennessee, LSU, Arkansas and Mississippi State would know something's not right.

"I feel like every game we go into is going to be a championship-caliber game," defensive lineman Terron Sanders said. "Everybody is going to bring their best and we've seen it. We don't see it letting up any time soon."

Is all that pressure getting to Tebow? He did open fall practice talking about wanting to lead Florida to its first perfect season.

"I don't think it's getting to me," Tebow said. "Do I have a lot of pressure on me? Do I put pressure on me? Yeah. I put a lot more pressure than y'all could possibly put on me, so I don't think that's getting to me. I think just wanting to excel, wanting everything to be right. Yeah, that is frustrating not doing it, but I think that would have been every year, not just this year."