GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Mike Gillislee needs just 36 yards to become the first Florida running back to rush for 1,000 yards in a season in eight years.
He'll need way more than that, though, if the Gators are going to have a chance to beat Florida State on Saturday.
The 5-foot-11, 201-pound senior running back -- who ran for 122 yards and a touchdown in UF's 23-0 victory over Jacksonville State on Saturday -- has been the key to Florida's offense all season. He was rolling in the first half of the season, and so were the Gators. But when defenses started stacking the box with eight and nine players, Gillislee's production went way down -- and with it went the offense.
In the first five games of the season, Gillislee ran for 548 yards and seven touchdowns and averaged 109.6 yards per game. The Gators averaged 373.4 yards and 27.2 points per game in that span. That included a game against LSU, which entered the weekend with the No. 2 defense and No. 2 rush defense in the SEC.
But in the last six games, Gillislee has rushed for 416 yards and one touchdown and averaged 69.3 yards per game -- and that's after Saturday's performance against the Gamecocks. UF has averaged 299.2 yards and 24.7 points per game and hasn't scored more than 27 points in any game.
Granted, the sixth-ranked Gators (10-1) won all but one of those games in the second half and are still alive in the national championship race, but snapping a two-game losing streak to the Seminoles will require a performance reminiscent of the first part of the season from the offense and Gillislee.
"We need to get better," said UF coach Will Muschamp, who admitted the Gators' offensive production the past two weeks won't get it done against the Noles. "We need to be more consistent. There's no question they've done a really good job recruiting defensive players. Mark Stoops does an outstanding job with their defense. They've played well all year. We need to get more production offensively. More than anything we need to be more consistent offensively. We can't continue to self-inflict wounds on ourselves as far as the penalties and different mistakes."
Gillislee's 122 yards was his fourth 100-yard game of the season and his third-highest total behind the 148 he gained against Bowling Green and the 146 he had against LSU. He gained 115 against Tennessee. It was Gillislee's first 100-yard game and first time he scored a rushing touchdown since the LSU game on Oct. 6.
Gillislee played only three quarters Saturday before giving way to Matt Jones. The Gators were conservative by design in the second half, especially because Muschamp said Jacksonville State was blitzing a lot and he didn't want to expose backup QB Jacoby Brissett to injury. That partly contributed to their average numbers (356 yards and 23 points) against one of the worst defenses in the Football Championship Subdivision.
"We have to play our best game to beat FSU," said Brissett, who completed 14 of 22 passes for 154 yards in his first start since the season opener. "We've got to come out sharper on first and second down to relieve third downs, and we've got to be sharper in the red zone."
Gillislee and the offensive line face a similar task to what they faced against LSU and its stout defensive front. They responded to that challenge, and they'll have to do it again to get a victory and make Gillislee the school's first 1,000-yard rusher since Ciatrick Fason in 2004.
"We've done it before; we can do it again," left guard James Wilson said. "It's going to be a muscle game, and we know that. We'll be ready."