Senior running back Mike Gillislee, almost a forgotten man by the media ever since garnering Walt Camp Player of the Week honors after rushing for 146 yards against LSU, showed out in the final regular season game of his career finishing with 140 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the regular season with 1077 yards rushing for the season and became the Gators first 1,000 yard rusher since Ciatrick Fason did it in 2004.
“It feels great,” Gillislee said of breaking the 1,000 yard mark. “Hopefully I started a tradition, from here on out there will be a 1,000 yard rusher.”
His performance against FSU was eerily similar to the game against LSU as he played big, dominated in the second half, and showed his speed to the outside. His 37 yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter put the Gators ahead for good and was impressive as much for his quickness to hit the hole as it was for the speed he showed in outrunning the FSU secondary.
“I just seen a big hole and I just hit it,” Gillislee said of his big run. “I just gashed through it and it was a touchdown.”
An understatement for sure. It was a HUGE touchdown. Florida State had wrested control of the game in the third quarter and turned a 13-3 halftime lead into a 20-13 advantage. After helping the Gators to a field goal to stem the tide of unanswered FSU points, Gillislee took advantage of a fumble caused by a huge hit from Antonio Morrison on quarterback E.J. Manuel which set the Gators up on the Florida State 37 yard line down 20-17. On first down, Gillislee hit the hole inside and used his speed to outrun the FSU secondary for a huge score and a lead they would not relinquish. The score not only got the lead back for the Gators, but more importantly, it quieted the crowd and allowed Florida to regain momentum in the game.
Gillislee came to the Gators out of Deland, Florida with much promise. However, his first three years he was relegated to mop up duty for the most part as he waited his turn behind Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. The knock on him was he was indecisive in the hole and prone to nagging injuries. His career stats coming in to the season were 145 carries for 920 yards and ten touchdowns. Before the season, coach Will Muschamp had said that the focus would be on getting the downhill running game going. He wanted to be a tough inside running team that takes care of the football, protects field position, and rely’s on a strong defense. The key, according to Muschamp, would be for Mike Gillislee to step up and take on the role of feature back and bring toughness back to that position. Gilly didn’t disappoint.
In spite of playing through nagging injuries all season and in spite of teams loading the box to try and stop him, Gillislee has produced big time in the biggest of games. Whether it was the 146 yard two td performance against LSU a top ten rushing defensive team or the 140 he produced against FSU, 4th against the run in FBS, this past weekend, Gillislee has become the tough inside runner that Muschamp said he wanted to feature in this offense. Even in the games where the offensive line was dealing with injuries and wasn’t quite getting the push to free Gillislee, he still continued to pound the ball, rarely getting stopped for a loss, rarely getting stopped by the first defender or by one defender. When he wasn’t breaking long ones inside due to teams crowding the box, he was giving Driskel the opportunity to make big plays on the outside. On his own, Gillislee moves defenders and moves piles and has been the fuel that has made this offense go all season.
They needed him on Saturday with Jeff Driskel’s ankle still making it difficult for him to cut or to get up to speed. Gillislee hit the holes hard early and continued throughout the game to make defender’s pay for trying to tackle him and it was obvious by the fourth quarter that the hard hitting paid off as the holes became bigger, the hits became softer, and Gillislee, along with backup Matt Jones, who came in after Gillislee injured his ribs, were able to dominate the fourth quarter and win the game for the Gators.
“What a fourth quarter,” Gillislee said after the game. “We’ve been doing that all year. We’ve been coming together at halftime saying we were going to finish the game and that’s what we’ve been doing.”
“My offensive line they were challenged all week and them boys did a hell of a job. This week we had a physical practice so I give all the credit to them boys. they really wanted it and they did a hell of a job tonight.”
For his efforts on Saturday, Mike Gillislee was named the SEC co-Player of the Week.