Before the season, Florida Gators senior running back Mike Gillislee boldly set goals of 1,500 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Though he will not likely reach either aspiration, it would be unfair to say Gillislee hasn’t had a highly successful final season in a Gators uniform.
In No. 6 Florida’s 23-0 victory against Jacksonville State on Saturday, Gillislee finished with 19 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown. It was his fourth game eclipsing the century mark this season, as he previously did so against Bowling Green, Tennessee and LSU.
“We felt like Mike’s yards would be there,” Gators coach Will Muschamp said. “We felt like that would be there all day.”
Gillislee scored the game’s first points — Florida’s only offensive touchdown — on a 7-yard run to cap Florida’s opening drive. With defenses particularly focused on shutting him down, the touchdown was his first on the ground since rushing for a pair of scores in Florida’s 14-6 win against LSU on Oct. 6.
The opening drive was the only time Florida’s offense was able to punch it in for a touchdown, but it set the tone for the game.
Unlike the week before when the Gators failed to establish impose their will on Louisiana-Lafayette, a team UF seemingly had a sizeable advantage against, Gillislee’s efforts early in the game made it clear Florida would win in the trenches against Jacksonville State.
The Gators must now take a similar mindset into its season finale against Florida State.
With the quarterback situation unclear at the moment — Jeff Driskel continues to nurse a sprained ankle — Florida will need the type of performance from Gillislee that helped the Gators beat a similarly touted LSU defense.
In its first 10 games, Florida State allowed an average of 74.3 rushing yards per game — second in the nation. Rushers averaged just 2.44 yards per carry against the Seminoles — third in the nation.
Gillislee will be looking to buck the trend while also accomplishing a bit of history for himself.
With his 122 rushing yards Saturday, Gillislee is just 36 yards short of 1,000 on the season. With two games left, it seems all but certain he will become the first Florida running back to rush for more than 1,000 yards since Ciatrick Fason rushed for 1,267 yards in 2004.
Considering the rivalry and how the past two seasons have gone — both victories for Florida State — the Gators do not want to wait until a bowl game for Gillislee to get to 1,000 yards.
“We were trying to [get him to 1,000 yards] today, and it didn’t happen,” senior offensive lineman James Wilson said. “Next week, we will definitely get that done for him.”
Florida has been outscored 52-14 the past two seasons by the Seminoles. Because of that, Wilson said it is a point of pride for the entire offense to help Gillislee accomplish the feat in Tallahassee.
The more Gillislee runs, the better chance the Gators have of winning.
“We’ve got to switch those bragging rights over to Gainesville,” Wilson said. “We’ll make it happen.”
Muschamp wasn’t worried about who the opponent would be when Gillilsee breaks 1,000 yards. But he hopes to see it happen.
Earlier this season, he called Gillislee a “Will Muschamp guy” and said he would take his senior running back over anybody else in the nation.
Prior to this year, Gillislee was stuck near the bottom of the depth chart for three seasons at Florida, one of which was under Muschamp. He watched guys such as Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey flourish while he rarely saw the field.
Through it all, he never said a negative word to a coach or teammate. He continued to prepare for his moment, which came this season when he became the team’s starting running back.
Gillislee’s dedication and selflessness is something Muschamp said he wishes to see in all of his players. Now, Gillislee has the chance to put himself in the Florida record book, and Muschamp couldn’t be prouder.
“Mike Gillislee would stand before you, wouldn’t say much, and he would say he’s worried about winning the game,” Muschamp said. “He’s a team guy.
“Certainly 1,000 yards would be a great accomplishment. … We know how difficult it is for one guy to do that in this league.”