TALLAHASSEE -- All he needed was a hole. And when Florida running back Mike Gillislee finally got one, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Gators running back, who is equal parts bruiser and evader, had fought throughout a back-and-forth game for positive yards, reaching 100 yards in the third quarter without a run longer than 12 yards. In the first quarter, Gillislee became Florida’s first 1,000-yard back since Ciatrick Fason did it in 2004. But none of that compares to Saturday’s game-winning, 37-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter of the Gators’ 37-26 win against the rival Seminoles.
“All I needed was a good seam,” he said. “I saw it, and I just mashed the gas, and I hit it for the touchdown.”
The score put Florida ahead for good, and the game he had put Gillislee into UF’s record books. He finished with 24 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns, bringing his season totals to 1,104 yards and 10 touchdowns.
A man of few words, Gillislee stayed true to that Saturday, choosing to credit his offensive line for his success instead of taking the credit for himself.
In his final home game as a Seminole, fifth-year senior quarterback EJ Manuel had possibly his worst game since taking over the job late in 2009.
Manuel struggled from the first series, when he threw a poor pass into double coverage that was intercepted by Florida safety Matt Elam. The mistakes kept on coming, as Manuel accounted for four of Florida State’s five turnovers in Saturday’s loss.
“That was not one of his more stellar performances,” coach Jimbo Fisher said.
Manuel finished 18 of 33 for 182 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and a fumble.
Florida has made a living of winning games in the second half this season, and that was no different Saturday even though the Gators entered halftime with the lead.
A 13-3 edge coming out of the locker room quickly evaporated in the third quarter, as Florida State rattled off 17 consecutive points to take the lead into the fourth quarter. But with Florida holding a more than 16-minute advantage in time of possession going into the final 15 minutes, it was only a matter of time before Florida State wilted, players said.
In the fourth quarter, the Gators exploded for 24 points to turn a close game into a near rout. They rushed for 112 yards in the quarter alone. In the second half of games this season, Florida has outscored opponents 192-78.
Werner’s big day
Matched up against Florida right tackle Chaz Green for much of the game, Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner must have been seeing red. Werner had one of the best games of his career against the Gators, sacking quarterback Jeff Driskel three times and combining with fellow defensive end Tank Carradine for another. Werner also recovered a fumble in the game, returning it 9 yards to the UF 17 to set up a Dustin Hopkins field goal.
Before the win against Florida State, second-year coach Will Muschamp had struggled against Florida’s natural rivals, going 0-3 against Georgia and Florida State. He notched his first rivalry win over the Seminoles in arguably the Gators’ biggest game this season.