On Saturday, #4 LSU will bring the SEC’s third-best rush defense (83 yards allowed per game) into Gainesville for a clash with #10 Florida. The Gators have the league’s third-best rushing offense (224.5 yards per game) and Mike Gillislee is a big part of that, averaging 100.5 yards per contest (which trails only Georgia’s Todd Gurley in the SEC).
But Gillislee has cranked out that yardage on just about 17 carries per game. That’s the third highest average in the conference behind Tennessee’s Rajion Neal (20 carries per game) and South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore (18 carries per game). But according to his offensive coordinator, Gillislee’s number of touches could go up this week. Way up.
Brent Pease says Gillislee is capable of doing in the SEC what former Boise State running back Doug Martin did against WAC and Mountain West competition:
“If he’s got to carry it 30 times this game, carry it 30. Whatever it takes. If a guy wants to play at the next level, you better be able to handle it 25 times a game. That’s when we see how strong you are — in the fourth quarter…
Doug Martin carried it 25-30 times a game, and I don’t see any difference between Mike. He can handle that, and I think the kid’s good.”
Did we mention that Martin played against WAC and Mountain West defenses? If Pease is looking for a difference between Martin and Gillislee, he need look no further than the quality of competition. We at MrSEC.com don’t recall the WAC or MWC cranking out dozens of NFL defensive linemen in recent years as the SEC has.
That’s not to say Gillislee isn’t capable of carrying the football 25-30 times against LSU on Saturday. In 2010, Carolina’s Lattimore pounded Florida for 212 yards and three touchdowns on a jaw-dropping 40 carries in a 36-14 Gamecock win. But that kind of workload is the exception, not the rule.
To put things in perspective, Herschel Walker averaged 32 carries per game as Georgia rode him to a 10-2 record in 1981. (If you’re wondering, Auburn’s Bo Jackson averaged just 23 carries per game in his busiest season, 1985.). But SEC backs aren’t often asked to take a Walker-style beating these days.
Alabama’s Trent Richardson led the league with just under 22 carries per game last season. In 2010, Lattimore and LSU’s Stevan Ridley led the way with 19 carries per contest each. Anthony Dixon toted the ball 23 times per game for Mississippi State in 2009.
The last SEC runner to average 25 carries per outing was Darren McFadden for Arkansas in 2007.
It’s not unheard of for an SEC back to be able to rush for 25 or even 30 times every now and then. But don’t go expecting Gillislee to get that kind of workout over the final two months of the season. He was a bit banged up coming out of the Gators win over Texas A&M and now he’s had an open date to heal up. Still, in UF’s four games this season, the Gators’ starting running back has carried the ball 24 times (Bowling Green), 14 times (Texas A&M), 18 times (Tennessee), and 13 times (Kentucky). He hasn’t hit 25 carries yet and has come nowhere near 30.
If he does get 30 carries against LSU’s defense or average 25 to 30 carries per game from here on out… we’ll be mighty surprised.