HOOVER, Ala. — The reminder is easy to see right on the wall of the meeting room.
Florida tailback Mike Gillislee sees it all the time, and it resonates with the Gators senior.
“I think about it every day,” Florida’s leading returning rusher said Wednesday morning at the Southeastern Conference’s annual media days at the Wynfrey Hotel.
“In the running-back room, we can see all the 1,000-yard backs, and I can just picture myself being up there. That’s the goal. This being my senior year, I’m going to give it all I’ve got.”
Florida might need that effort from a number of its offensive players in 2012. The Gators will have a new quarterback, and speedsters Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey also are gone. The leading returning receiver is tight end Jordan Reed. And the Gators weren’t an offensive juggernaut last season.
In five of its six losses, Florida scored 12 or fewer points. Quarterback John Brantley, Demps and Rainey were slowed by and missed games due to injury. The Gators were minus-12 in turnover margin and outscored 72-22 in the fourth quarters of their eight SEC games.
“It’s a minor miracle we won seven games,” said former Auburn and Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who went 7-6 in his first season at Florida.
“I think I said it a thousand times last year: If we can keep John Brantley healthy, we’ll be fine. [His injuries] posed a lot of issues. We lost a lot of confidence offensively, and we struggled to move the ball consistently throughout the rest of the season.”
The 2006 and 2008 national champions lost six games for the first time since 1987, and with all the newcomers on offense comes a new coordinator. Brent Pease, who Muschamp said was “a guy on my radar for an awful long time,” replaced Charlie Weis after six seasons at Boise State, including one year as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator in 2011. Pease was Kentucky’s offensive coordinator in 2001 and 2002, when Muschamp was an assistant at LSU.
“He’s a very intelligent guy [who] does an outstanding job with our players,” Muschamp said. “People ask what will be different. We better score more points.
“He brings a lot of formation variations [and] motion shifts. We will be more of a downhill running game because of the backs we have. That’s not a shift in philosophy.”
That’s fine with Gillislee, the 5-foot-11, 201-pounder who was Florida’s third-leading rusher last season with 334 yards and two touchdowns on 56 carries. He said Pease’s schemes better suit his straight-ahead running style. Gillislee’s expectations are ambitious: His season goals are 1,500 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns.
The yardage output would make him Florida’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Ciatrick Fason in 2004, and the scoring total would break Tim Tebow’s single-season record of 23 set in 2007. Florida’s ground game was geared more to outside runs last season, perhaps more similar to previous coach Urban Meyer’s spread running game. The duo of Demps and Rainey combined for 1,430 yards with their game-breaking speeding under Weis, now the coach at Kansas.
“I think that [Pease] is a good coach,” Gillislee said. “He doesn’t show no favoritism. He treats everybody the same.
“[Last season] was real tough. We’ve got to get Florida football back to how it’s used to being, like Florida fans coming in expecting us to win. It used to be they know that they’re going to win.”
Whichever sophomore — Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel — wins the starting quarterback job will have a big part in that. Both were highly touted recruits who struggled as rookies last season. Brissett made his first two starts in road losses at LSU and Auburn, and Driskel was hurt shortly after Brantley suffered his initial injury against Alabama.
Muschamp, who became the first coach at media days to face a question about his job status, declined to put a timetable on naming a starter and suggested both could play.
“No more pressure at all,” Muschamp said. “The pressure is what you put on yourself, and I put an awful lot on myself whether it’s year one or year 10. But certainly year two, as far as from a job standpoint, I feel like I’m much more prepared just from the day-to-day operation of the things that come across your desk as a head coach.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...