Posted: November 21, 2009, 7:03 PM ; Updated: November 23, 2009, 11:36 AM
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Following weeks of close calls, controversy and criticism, top-ranked Florida got to play on cruise control.
The Gators enjoyed every minute of it.
Tim Tebow accounted for three touchdowns, Brandon Spikes returned an interception for a score and Florida extended the nation's longest winning streak to 21 games with a 62-3 victory over Florida International on Saturday.
The Gators improved to 11-0 for just the second time in school history and need two more wins - against Florida State and Alabama - to earn a shot at repeating as national champions.
After surviving several struggles during Southeastern Conference play, the Gators probably needed an easy week. The Golden Panthers (3-8) played the part to perfection.
"It was real nice,'' guard Mike Pouncey said. "We had a long SEC run, then to go out there and have a game like this, where we can rest starters the second half, was real good for our team. We'll be ready to go Saturday.''
Florida scored touchdowns on eight of 11 offensive possessions. The only scoreless drives came when Caleb Sturgis missed a 52-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter and when Florida ran out the clock in the final seconds of each half.
Spikes started the onslaught when he intercepted Paul McCall's pass and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown, his fourth INT return for a score in the last two years.
"He does have a knack,'' coach Urban Meyer said. "Great anticipation.''
The defense didn't let up, sacking McCall twice and holding the Golden Panthers to 189 yards and 11 first downs.
Tebow, hoping to solidify a spot as a Heisman Trophy finalist, had one of his best games of the season. It came against a defense that had allowed nearly 500 yards a game.
Tebow completed 17 of 25 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns and ran seven times for 102 yards and a score. His rushing touchdown - a 55-yard scramble on a third-and-2 play - was the longest run of his career. Tebow rolled left after faking a handoff, then took off against man-to-man coverage and ended up tiptoeing the sideline.
"They forgot to account for me,'' he said.
It was Tebow's 54th career touchdown, breaking the SEC record held by former LSU star Kevin Faulk.
Tebow also had a 27-yard TD pass to Chris Rainey early in the second quarter that made it 21-0 and an 18-yarder to roommate Riley Cooper on the opening drive of the third.
Rainey and Jeff Demps had rushing scores. Backup John Brantley had three TD passes, including a perfectly thrown 31-yarder to Frankie Hammond Jr. on a fourth-and-11 play with 2:28 remaining.
"It was definitely fun,'' linebacker Ryan Stamper said. "After the starters got out, it's just fun watching guys who go real hard in practice but don't really play as much get a chance to go in the game and play.''
The Swamp started to empty early in the fourth, with Tebow standing on the sideline wearing a headset and many other starters done for the day.
The Gators finished with 584 yards, 30 first downs and no punts.
The Golden Panthers - 45-point underdogs paid $425,000 to play in Gainesville - missed a field goal try in the second quarter and turned the ball over on downs twice in the second half.
McCall completed 9 of 21 passes for 134 yards. Kendall Berry ran 13 times for 26 yards.
"We played hard, but we're not at the level of the Florida Gators right now,'' FIU coach Mario Cristobal said.
Things could get tougher in Florida's home finale against rival Florida State, which eked out a 29-26 win over Maryland on Saturday to become bowl eligible for the 28th consecutive year. Then again, the Seminoles have posed little threat to the Gators the last five years.
"That'd pretty much make their season, if they beat us,'' Stamper said. "Like I said, we have a lot to accomplish and a lot of goals, so I don't think it'll be a problem.''