Florida has really struggled running the ball the past two weeks, but one player has had a little more success than the other backs, and head coach Will Muschamp said Monday it’s time to get him some more touches.
“I feel like I earned them,” junior Mike Gillislee said. “I’ve been waiting for this time in my life to stand up and be productive for this offense to do what I can.”
The Gators have averaged just 2.1 yards per carry as a team in the past two games, but Gillislee has averaged 4.6 yards per carry.
He showed good technique running between the tackles against LSU en route to a team-high 56 yards rushing on nine carries, and his teammates have noticed.
“He’s a hard runner, hard worker,” center Jon Harrison said. “He’s just bringing just an extra little oomph we need in the backfield. He’s getting more reps in practice and everything, and he’s going to see a little bit more play time coach was saying, so I’m excited to see that.”
In two and a half years at Florida, Gillislee has run for 834 yards on 123 carries (6.8 yards per carry).
Gillislee harbors no resentment or frustration due to his lack of touches, and he said he’s just had to play behind two extremely talented backs. In fact, he’s used the lack of touches so far in his career as motivation when he does get in.
“I just feel like every time I run the ball, I never know when I’m going to get it again,” he said. “So I try to run as hard as I can while I’ve got it.”
With Demps limited with an ankle injury and Rainey largely stymied by two fast, physical defenses against Alabama and LSU, Gillislee should get an increased workload at Auburn this week.
“He’s one of the guys that we recognized that played the way you need to play – with some toughness,” Muschamp said. “He’s a guy that plays great on special teams. He’s a guy that we need to get some more touches.”
Gillislee also leaned on his teammates when he wasn’t getting the rock as much as the speedier duo, and he credited his teammates with keeping him positive.
“My team always brought me up, they never put me down,” Gillislee said. “I just always waited my turn. I’m just staying focused and continuing doing what I’ve been doing.”
The junior from DeLand has worked hard to carve his new niche out in the offense, too.
He came in at about 175 pounds and said Tuesday he’s gotten all the way up to 205. He’s a more physical back now, which allows him to do some things Demps and Rainey don’t do quite as well.
One of the things that really sticks out to teammates is his vision running the ball between the tackles and ability to make a play out of nothing.
“Say there’s just a little gap in the defense that maybe he wasn’t supposed to be running in and he sees the opening,” center Jon Harrison said. “He’ll just take advantage of it and get as many yards as he can.”
Gillislee had a few carries against LSU that seemed to be going for no gain before he waited behind a block and took off upfield.
That type of vision makes him a valuable asset running behind an offensive line that has had some trouble creating open lanes the past two weeks.
“He’s been really good at reading blocks,” left guard Kyle Koehne said. “He reads our blocks well and our hat placement. He’s just got good downfield vision.”
The 5-foot-11, 205-pound junior readily admitted pass blocking was something that kept him from getting on the field earlier this season.
He struggled to adjust to the new pass blocking responsibilities in offensive coordinator Charlie Weis’ offense. In the spread-option offense, backs were only responsible for making a pass block on one side of the field. In the pro-style offense, Gillislee said he’s responsible for protecting either side, depending on where the rush is coming from.
Now that he’s been able to pick up the pass protection and the coaches have seen what he can do as a between-the-tackles runner, Gillislee will get his shot to play a bigger role in the Florida offense.
He’s ready for the opportunity and hopes to provide the same type of spark he did Saturday against LSU.
“I really just got to stay focused and continue doing what I was doing,” he said.