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Gillislee key to UF's chances in Sugar Bowl

Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 07:52 PM

During the SEC Media Days event in Birmingham, Ala., in July, Florida senior running back Mike Gillislee announced his goals for the 2012 season were to rush for 1,500 yards and score 15 touchdowns.

Raised eyebrows and doubts followed, but heading into Wednesday's Sugar Bowl against Louisville, he could come close to achieving those numbers with a big final outing.

Gillislee has scored a team-high 11 touchdowns (one receiving) and his 140 rushing yards against Florida State in the regular-season finale gave him 1,104 for the season.

He became the eighth Gator to top 1,000 yards, the first since Ciatrick Fason (1,267) in 2004. By being just the eighth Gators back to top 1,000 yards in a season, he will have that accomplishment honored in the football facility.

"It's something I always wanted to do," Gillislee said of getting his photo on the wall in the UF running backs' meeting room. "I want to always be remembered. … When I come back, hopefully next season, I can come back to the running back room and see (the photo). It would be a great feeling."

Gillislee wasn't a factor in Urban Meyer's spread offense, but the switch to a pro style fit his game perfectly. Last year, he had to wait for his time to shine behind Olympic sprinter Jeff Demps and future Pittsburgh Steelers draft pick Chris Rainey.

"He never came to practice with a bad attitude or anything," senior receiver Frankie Hammond said. "He was just always positive and just waited for his time and took the most of his opportunities when they came."

Finally, that chance arrived in 2012 and Gillislee has been a major part in Florida's turnaround — the Gators have made a five-win improvement over last year's 6-6 regular-season finish.

"I'm a believer, man, and I just let God do everything. That's what happened," Gillislee said. "I got an opportunity and I stayed healthy throughout the season and great things happened for me."

Louisville has had issues with strong running games, giving up 151.1 yards an outing (50th nationally, No. 7 in the Big East), with opponents averaging 4.3 yards per rush. Gillislee had five 100-yard games this season and is primed for a big finish to a great year.

And there's no secret that pounding the ball on the ground is the game current UF coach Will Muschamp loves.

Gillislee certainly will go into Wednesday night as the major focus of Louisville's defense.

"If we want to stop Florida's offense we will have to stop him," Cardinals defensive end Marcus Smith said. "I think he is the best player on Florida's offense, if we do not play our assignments he can beat us.

"The challenge for our defensive line will be not letting him go over the top on us. If we let him get to the outside he will beat us with his speed."