Alan Dell

Commentary | Florida head coach Will Muschamp does it his way in win over LSU thanks to Mike Gillislee

It will be remembered as the day the Gators reclaimed the Swamp.

The ghost of Urban Meyer has been exorcised, and Tim Tebow is now a pleasant memory instead of an albatross around the Florida football team.

The best part is that Will Muschamp can look in the mirror and not see shadows from the past lurking over him, though he claims critics don't bother him.

"I have a lot of friends, so I will be all right. I don't care about me. I care about the players and the fans," said Muschamp, whose 10th-ranked Gators improved to 5-0.

The 14-6 victory over fourth-ranked LSU on Saturday was done Muschamp's way. It was a heavyweight fight with each team pounding the other in the midsection, hoping to land a knockout blow.

The Gators accomplished that with Mike Gillislee, the senior running back, who carried the ball 22 times in the second half for 112 yards to finish with a career-high 34 carries for 146 yards.

The Gators only had 176 yards rushing and 61 passing, and Gil

lislee scored both their touchdowns on 12-yard runs. His 22 carries in a half were a personal high.

No one appreciates Gillislee more than Muschamp and Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel. The tailback got the critics off Muschamp's back with his biggest victory and took the pressure off Driskell, who had a pedestrian day, throwing for 61 yards and getting sacked five times.

The coach stuck with the run game after intermission, despite only 16 yards rushing and 47 yards total offense in the first half that left the Gators trailing 6-0.

"I will take Gilley over anybody. I tell him that all the time," Muschamp said. "He is a 'Will Muschamp guy.' He never says anything. He just does his job, lines up and does what he is asked. You ask him to block and he is going to block; you ask him to catch the ball and he is going to catch it. He is a program guy. This guy puts Florida ahead of himself, and that's pretty hard nowadays."

Gillislee also is patient. For three years he stood in the shadows of others, not knowing if his turn would come. He was kind of a forgotten entity, a change-of-pace back for Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, now in the NFL.

In one of the rare moments when he talks about himself, Gillislee admits it was frustrating. He was a power running back who didn't fit into Meyer's spread offense.

Then Muschamp showed up determined to make the Gators a physical offensive team. Gillislee seemed to be the guy who could make that happen, though he still had to take a subsidiary role to Demps and Rainey last year.

"In the previous years, I was frustrated, but I put the team first and tried to give the coaches what they wanted," Gillislee said. "To be the guy now is a dream come true. This opportunity I am going to take and work hard at. The other running back is just as good as me."

This was Muschamp's first victory over a top-five team since taking over the Gators program last year. But for him it was more than just a win. It was a validation that his way of doing things is going to work in the SEC, which has become a defensive oriented league that relies so much on downhill running and tough play in the trenches.

It's totally different than what Meyer used on offense, but he had Tebow. Now Muschamp has the perfect man to make his offense move in Gillislee.

During the offseason, Muchamp worked hard on getting his players stronger and spent a good time berating his offensive line for being too soft.

"We beat it in their heads in the offseason that last year in SEC games in the fourth quarter we were outscored 72-22, and as competitors they respond to those things," Muschamp said.

In its five games this year, Florida has outscored its opponents 41-0 in the fourth quarter and is the only Football Bowl Subdivision team that has not allowed any points in the final period. The Gators have won all three games in which it trailed at halftime (Texas A&M, Tennessee and LSU) and outscored their opponents 51-6 in the second half.

The Tigers had the longest regular season unbeaten streak with 18 and were ranked second in the SEC in total defense.

LSU head coach Les Miles basically puts all his best athletes on defense and dares you to score. Not many have, but the Gators did just enough and had a big defensive stand at the end of the first half when they held the Tigers to a field goal after they had a first and goal at the 7 following a Driskel fumble.

"You saw two very physical teams go at it today on both lines of scrimmage, and you could see the improvement that we have made," Muschamp said. "It was very evident out there that we are much stronger and had good endurance against an outstanding athletic bunch, especially on the defensive side of the ball."

"That was typical 1980s-style SEC football. It was a physical, physical match. Both (defensive) lines are going to put pressure on the quarterback. That is the difference in this league and those other leagues you watch on TV with all those points being scored. A quarterback (there) wouldn't make it through a season in our league."

To put an exclamation point on his beliefs, Muschamp ran the ball 25 straight times to end the game.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.