Sunday September 16, 2012Gators Notebook: Gillislee gets it done, playmakers emerge, finishing strong, plus more
Gators running back Mike Gillislee rushed for 115 yards on Saturday against Tennessee.
Gators running back Mike Gillislee rushed for 115 yards on Saturday against Tennessee.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Gators running back Mike Gillislee was a popular subject in the days leading up to Saturday's game at Tennessee.
The SEC's leading rusher (115.3 yards per game) suffered a strained groin at Texas A&M and showed a national TV audience how much it bothered him after his go-ahead touchdown run in the victory over the Aggies.
As happens in today's 24/7 news cycle and recycle, speculation immediately began on whether Gillislee would play against the Vols. When the Gators took the field for pre-game warm-ups Saturday, the tweets starting dissecting Gillislee's every move.
Was he limping? Was the groin taped underneath his pants? Was he going to even play like Gators coach Will Muschamp said all week, even after Muschamp told ESPN that Gillislee was fine and probably good for about 20 carries shortly before the game?
The speculation boarded on the absurd when Matt Jones started at tailback and the Gators ran a trick play that misfired.
"Guess Gilly is "fine" on the sidelines. #pinocchiomuschamp," wrote one reporter.
Gillislee played and did his usual handy work, leading the Gators with 18 carries for 115 yards. He reeled off a 45-yard run in the fourth quarter that led to Florida's go-ahead score in its 37-20 win over the Vols.
While Gillislee may have been slowed by the groin strain, he had no plans to miss Saturday's game.
"I felt great out there,'' he said. "The contact felt pretty good and I lasted the whole game."
Gillislee now has 346 yards on the season, surpassing his previous career high of 328 yards -- set last season -- in only three games. His presence has also helped sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel's development.
"When you are able to hand it off to Gillislee ... that's just Old Man River,'' Muschamp said. "He just keeps going."
PLAYING WITH EYES UP
The Gators racked up a season-high 555 yards of total offense against the Vols thanks to an avalanche of big plays.
Gillislee had his 45-yard run. Driskel broke off a run for 28 yards. Trey Burton scored on runs of 80 and 14 yards, and he caught a career-best 32-yard pass. Frankie Hammond turned a short catch into a 75-yard touchdown. Tight end Jordan Reed hauled in a 23-yard touchdown from Driskel. Solomon Patton caught his first pass of the season and gained 34 yards on three carries. Quinton Dunbar dragged defenders with him to pick up extra yards after the catch.
For the first time the Gators offense looked a lot like the one offensive coordinator Brent Pease directed last season at Boise State.
"We opened up the playbook man,'' Gillislee said. "We knew it was time to step it up. We knew that they were going to try and stop the run game, so Coach opened up the playbook. They wanted to give other players on the team the opportunity to get the ball in their hand."
Pease tried to get as many players involved as possible, including more shots in the passing game.
"I feel like we brought out a lot of wrinkles,'' Patton said. "In the second half, Coach Pease told us it's our time at the wide receiver position. A lot of plays are about to open for us."
The Gators made the plays when they got the chance. If they can get the ball in space, Pease likes what the skill players can do.
"Everybody can be a playmaker one way or the other, that's the way I look at it,'' Pease said. "It's like with Frankie, on the touchdown he caught. I mean they were coming with blitz. Jeff saw it and Frankie understood it and caught the ball and then made a play afterward. Mack Brown on the throw to Trey picks up the blitzer off his own fake.
"Guys just saw things. They played with their eyes up."
FILLING IN FINE
Despite being without starting linebacker Jelani Jenkins, defensive back Cody Riggs and offensive lineman Chaz Green due to injuries, the Gators won their fourth consecutive game dating to last season's Gator Bowl.
True freshman Antonio Morrison started in place of Jenkins, Pop Saunders in place of Riggs and Kyle Koehne started for Green. Morrison finished with five tackles and Saunders had a tackle and a pass break-up.
"We had a lot of guys step up,'' senior linebacker Jon Bostic said. "Antonio played well; [reserve linebacker] Mike Taylor played well. There is a lot of room for improvement, so that is only going to help us."
Green (ankle) was a game-time decision. Muschamp was pleased with the way Koehne responded to his first start of the season.
"He played right tackle after playing his entire career at Florida at left tackle,'' Muschamp said. "He went out there and played right tackle and did a hack of a job against some guys who can really rustle the edge."
The Gators did not allow a sack after Driskel was sacked eight times at Texas A&M.
It can’t be emphasized enough. The manner in which the Gators have imposed their will on teams late in the game is the No. 1 reason the team is 3-0.
“We have put a tremendous emphasis on winning the fourth quarter and winning the second half and wearing down our opponent,” Muschamp said. “Our kids have bought into doing that.”
Buying in and doing it are two different things, but the Gators clearly have done both. In the wins over Bowling Green, Texas A&M and Tennessee, Florida has won second halves by a combined 50-13 and the fourth quarters 27-0.
“We get stronger as the game goes on,” flanker Trey Burton said.
That certainly wasn’t the case last year, Muschamp’s first at UF, when several teams rolled the Gators out of the locker room, with the Gators stomped by a collective 72-22 in the fourth quarter.
Enter new strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman, who changed the offseason routine and regimen that put a premium on explosiveness and stamina.
The results are profoundly obvious.
"The last two weeks have brought this team a lot closer, and made us realize we do have the tools and attributes to be a real successful team,'' said center Jon Harrison, one of the team's captains Saturday. "If we keep digging and keep fighting all the way through the way, then there is real hope to we can be successful."
GETTING THEIR KICKS
Caleb Sturgis gets a lot of pub and rightfully so. He very well could be the finest placekicker in the nation and against the Vols went 3-for-3, including a 49-yarder, to run his season numbers to 7-for-8 on the season.
But what punter Kyle Christy did Saturday should not be discounted.
Christy was clutch at UT, averaging 48.6 yards on five punts, twice rescuing the Gators with booming kicks from deep in their own territory.
“He flipped the field,” Muschamp said.
UF’s’ first possession of the game began on its 10 and the first play of the game was a 7-yard loss after a muffed trick play. Christy, from his own end zone, nailed a 55-yard punt that carried to a fair catch at Tennessee’s own 37.
Later in the quarter, the Gators began a drive at their 4 and moved only to the 10. Again, Christy was asked to punt from his end zone. Again, he delivered. This time, it was a 50-yarder.
Remember the fits A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel gave the Gators through the first half last week? In his second collegiate outing Saturday against Southern Methodist, Manziel totaled 418 yards of total offense -- 294 passing, 124 rushing -- and accounted for six touchdowns in the Aggies’ 48-3 drubbing of the Mustangs.
Florida’s eight-game winning streak against Tennessee is one of just four winning streaks UF has against SEC opponents and it’s tied for the third-longest. The Gators have beaten Kentucky, next week’s opponent 25 straight (dating to 1987), Vanderbilt 21 straight (1989) and Arkansas eight (1995). Here’s a refresher course of those great eight vs. the Vols.
Year Score Highlight
2005 16-7 Urban Meyer’s taste of the rivalry.
2006 21-20 Chris Leak to Dallas Baker and Tim Tebow’s 4th-down run.
2007 59-20 Tebow throws for 299 yards, two TDs; rushes for 61, 2 TDs
2008 30-6 UF defense forces 3 first-half fumbles, two in red zone.
2009 23-13 Gators were too hyped for the Lane Kiffin game.
2010 31-17 Tebow successor John Brantley’s first SEC start is a success.
2011 33-23 Chris Rainey 100-plus yards rushing and receiving - and a blocked punt.
2012 37-20 Gators with 555 yards of offense, 336 on the ground.
QUOTE OF NOTE I
"When you've got people chasing you and you've got adrenaline going, you're usually faster. He played football speed in pads right there." -- Pease on Burton's burst of speed on his 80-yard run
QUOTE OF NOTE II
"Let's not start celebrating here. Let's be realistic where we are. We've got a long way to go, but we've got guys who bought into what we're trying to do, and that's what you need to have.'' -- Muschamp after his first win against a ranked opponent in six tries
Gators junior defensive lineman Dominique Easley needed help leaving the field late in the fourth quarter.
Muschamp sounded optimistic that Easley did not suffer a serious injury to his knee. Easley suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in last season's regular-season finale against Florida State.
"He's fine. He tweaked his knee a little bit, but it's not the injured knee,'' Muschamp said.
The Gators won their second consecutive game when trailing at halftime. They had been 0-5 under Muschamp prior to the win at Texas A&M ... The Gators evened their record at 11-11 all-time at Neyland Stadium and lead the series against the Vols 23-19 ... Florida's 37 points were its most in Knoxville since a 43-30 win in 1984 ... The Gators' 336 yards rushing against the Vols were their most against Tennessee since a 370-yard performance in 1977 ... The team that has finished with the most rushing yards has now won 21 of the last 23 meetings in the Gators-Vols series ... Driskel joined Danny Wuerffel (1993), Doug Johnson (1997), Tim Tebow (2007) and John Brantley (2010) as Gators quarterbacks since 1990 to win their first start against the Vols ... Burton's 80-yard run and 32-yard catch were both career-high marks for the junior from Venice ... Reed's five catches for 60 yards tied his career high for receptions in a game.