GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- From the very first day of spring practice, Florida coach Will Muschamp has talked until he was orange and blue in the face about how the 2012 Gators were going to be a physical, no-nonsense, downhill running football team.
For a program that for two decades has been defined by its quarterback play and passing game, such a pledge was met with some skepticism.
Take senior tailback Mike Gillislee, for example.
“I was thinking in my head that I’ll believe it when I see it,” Gillislee said Saturday night after carrying a career-high 24 times for a career-high 148 yards and a career-high two touchdowns in UF’s 27-14 win over Bowling Green. “Well, I believe it now.”
The coaching staff, obviously, believes in Gillislee. Despite just 56 career attempts over his first three seasons, he’s the guy Muschamp has pegged as the running-game workhorse for 2012.
Against the Falcons, Gillislee had two-dozen carries. None of UF’s seven other ballcarrier had more than four attempts.
Oh, and he averaged 6.2 yards per carry.
“Mike's a one-cut runner who gets the ball vertical,” Muschamp said.
And he took some pressure off quarterback Jeff Driskel, too.
“All I had to do was turn around and give it to Gillislee,’’ Driskel said. “The offensive line was creating holes and he was hitting ‘em. It was an easy day for me.”
In the second quarter, Gillislee had scoring runs of 15 and 38 yards, the latter a nifty counter play with Gillislee hitting the second level, cutting right toward the weak side and ripping off the team’s longest run of the day.
“I saw the safety coming down, gave him a head fake and cut up north,” he said.
Key word: North.
That's the direction -- the only direction -- Muschamp wants his runners going.
Make no mistake. Despite 220 rushing yards, the Gators had plenty of breakdowns in the ground game, including six short-yardage situations on third or fourth down -- each time with two yards or less needed to convert -- that failed. And this was an opponent from the Mid-American, not the Southeastern Conference.
Offensive coordinator Brent Pease had a couple other ideas in those situations, but he was trumped by the ultimate authority on the UF sideline.
“I was very stubborn about wanting to run the ball in those situations,” Muschamp said. “You can preach a certain sermon over and over and over, but until you do it in front of the Gator Nation and fans, it’s not really what you’re about. We’re going to be a physical organization. We can’t just talk about it.”
Believe it when he says it.
After the first start of his career, Gillislee does.
“This is a chance I’ve always dreamed about,” he said. “I think I handled it pretty good.”