Florida running back Mike Gillislee (23) runs for yardage in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Mike Gillislee’s lofty preseason goals seem to be out of range now, but he is on track for a historic season.
He still has a chance to rush for a 1,000 yards, which has not been done at Florida since 2004, and join an elite club of seven other Gators who have hit that milestone. None of that appears important to Gillislee when his team is fighting for a BCS bowl berth.
“No, not really,” he said. “I just want to finish the season and win out, win out at home.”
No. 7 Florida has two remaining home games, starting Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (12:21 p.m., SEC Network). The Gators finish with Jacksonville State next week, followed by a trip to Florida State. If they win their final three games, they have a strong shot at an invitation to the Sugar Bowl.
Gillislee, a senior from DeLand, is one of the most reserved players on the team, letting his performance do the talking. Lately, though, his game has been quiet.
He opened the season with 548 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in the first five games, prompting talk that he could be a Heisman Trophy candidate. Since then, however, he has not topped 80 yards or hit the end zone as a runner. He scored last week on a 45-yard screen pass from.
Part of the problem is that Florida (8-1, 7-1 in the SEC) has not proven it can beat teams through the air. It ranks last in the SEC at 140.1 passing yards per game, more than 20 yards behind Auburn, the next worst team. Only six programs in the country have thrown for fewer yards than the Gators.
Despite his low production lately, Gillislee is third among SEC running backs at 88.6 rushing yards per game. He has 797 yards, which already is one of the highest single-season totals in program history. He is 191 yards short of cracking the top 10.
The Ragin’ Cajuns (5-3, 3-2 in the Sun Belt) are third in run defense in their conference, allowing 138.6 yards per game.
Gillislee’s breakout has been a surprise to everyone outside the program because few were even aware of him. He carried the ball 145 times in his first three seasons, an average of four attempts per game.
He was confident, though, and said in July he was targeting 1,500 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns. Those numbers are unlikely now, but his strong senior season is still good enough to put him on NFL teams’ draft boards.
Just three months ago, there was doubt about him having any opportunity to play in the league. Now, ESPN’s Todd McShay projects him as a fourth-round pick or better.
“There are enough teams looking for a guy that can come in and find yards between the tackles,” McShay said. “He has enough speed and quickness, but mostly he’s efficient and has good instincts as a runner, he runs behind his pads, runs low and he’s just tough.”
He also has shown he can be a factor in the passing game as a receiver or a blocker. He has six catches for 94 yards over the past four weeks, and offensive coordinator Brent Pease said he does his job when UF keeps him in the backfield to protect quarterback Jeff Driskel.
“He’s consistent and he understands the scheme,” Pease said. “One thing with Mike, he’s good at making adjustments and understanding what you want done within the game.”
A week after a pair of unimpressive losses, Georgia Tech regained a bit of its footing. The Yellow Jackets delivered an emphatic 87-57 thrashing of East Tennessee State on Saturday afternoon at McCamish Pavilion to head into their final exam week on an up note.