With 13:05 remaining in the fourth quarter, Florida running back Mike Gillislee was able to finagle just inside the pylon for a 12-yard rushing touchdown, giving Florida a 20-17 lead it would not relinquish.
As he crossed the plane and tumbled through the end zone, Gillislee stood up and immediately clutched his injured right groin as teammates met him with a tempered celebration.
The touchdown was the final carry of the game for the senior.
In Florida’s final three possessions, Matt Jones (three carries) and Mack Brown (four carries) were the lead backs. Solomon Patton and Jeff Driskel each received one carry, as well.
For one day, it was enough.
Florida went three-and-out on its first two possessions following the Gillislee touchdown. Despite the lack of success, the Gators maintained the three-point advantage thanks in large part to a stifling second-half defense.
In what would become the final possession of the game, Florida began with the ball at its own 14-yard line and 3:13 left in regulation.
Patton’s carry, a 12-yard sweep that began as he came in motion from the slot position, and Driskel’s a 21-yard bootleg, gave Florida two of its 21 total first downs, sealing the victory.
Initially, the team was unsure of Gillislee’s status.
Gators linebacker Jon Bostic said he was unaware of any injury until halfway through the fourth quarter.
“I was kind of like ‘Where’s he at?’ and somebody said he’d messed up something,” he said.
The admission by Bostic is a testament to Gillislee, who first appeared to tweak the injury early in the first half. Running on one leg, he turned in a workmanlike effort of 14 carries for 83 yards and two touchdowns.
His toughness, something the coaching staff spent the offseason attempting to instill in the team, has helped in become a leader both on and off the field.
Monday, Florida coach Will Muschamp said he expected Gillislee to practice, albeit not fully.
“He’s going to practice today … I think he should be fine,” he said. “We probably won’t rep him 40 times today, but we’ll make sure he’s ready to go for Saturday.”
It is crucial Gillislee is on the field.
This season, he has accounted for four of the five Florida touchdowns. His presence has allowed offensive coordinator Brent Pease to ease Driskel into games, while still running an efficient offense.
Unlike previous systems that employed different schematics, he has flourished under Pease.
His A-gap power, something Muschamp noted Monday, has allowed him to penetrate holes. He has also bounced runs, particularly his second touchdown against Texas A&M, to the perimeter, showing his unique combination of size and speed in the Florida offense.
“He’s definitely a huge part,” Driskel said of Gillislee. “He’s been running great.”
Against No. 23 Tennessee, also 2-0, the Gators will need all hands on deck.
It is the first meeting between the two programs with both ranked since 2007. In addition, Florida has won the last seven meetings.
It goes without saying how intense Neyland Stadium will be Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN) for the schools’ first night matchup in eight years.
Florida was able to walk out of an equally hostile location, Kyle Field, with a momentum-building, program-moving-in-the-right-direction victory Saturday.
To make it three wins in as many weeks, as well as achieve continued success throughout the season, the Gators will need Gillislee to be healthy and perform near the level he has the first two weeks of the season.
He is currently 1,269 yards and 20 touchdowns from his preseason goal of 1,500 yards and 24 touchdowns.
The huge goal despite previously being a non-factor shows his confidence.
His current numbers show his skill.
Now, the Gators need him to show he can stay healthy.