GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Nine months after calling his team soft, Florida coach Will Muschamp wanted to prove that it's no longer the case.
Even if it meant running against a stacked line of scrimmage and putting on a less-than-spectacular offensive performance.
Mike Gillislee had a career-high 148 yards rushing and two touchdowns, helping the 23rd-ranked Gators edge Bowling Green 27-14 in the teams' season opener Saturday.
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"We need to develop toughness in our program and what we're trying to do," Muschamp said. "Obviously on my part, a little hard-headed at times, but we did run for over 200 yards, which is good."
The victory was far from perfect for the Gators, who struggled part of the game on offense and failed to generate much pressure on defense. Still, it was enough for Florida to win its 23rd consecutive opener. The streak is the second longest in the nation behind Nebraska (27).
"We thought we were going to come out and just put up 40 points," said Gillislee, who carried 24 times. "That wasn't the case. They came to play, but we finished."
The Gators can thank Gillislee, Frankie Hammond and two missed field goals for the latest season-opening win.
A senior who spent the last three years playing behind Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, Gillislee scored on runs of 15 and 38 yards in the second quarter. Hammond turned a short pass into a 50-yard score early in the fourth. Bowling Green could have taken the lead in the second half, but fifth-year senior Stephen Stein missed field-goal attempts of 31 and 29 yards.
"We've struggled with field goals for three years," said Falcons coach Dave Clawson, who planned to switch kickers if his team got another shot. "You miss two short ones like that, we're going to give the other kid a shot. You've got to come out of those drives with points. We had a chance to be down just four points at the half. That was big."
Florida's quarterback rotation -- and thousands of empty seats following a 7-6 season that reached a low point when Muschamp called his players soft after a loss to rival Florida State -- got most of the attention on a sweltering day in Gainesville.
The Gators altered sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel in what was dubbed a final chance to earn the starting job. Driskel seemingly prevailed, although Muschamp said the competition remains open.
Brissett started the game, and then went to the bench on the second play. Driskel also started -- lining up at receiver for the first snap -- and played the first quarter. Brissett played the second quarter, but Muschamp went back to Driskel after halftime.
"I felt like the rhythm of the game dictated that we were going to need some pocket movement ... and Jeff gave us that better opportunity," Muschamp said.
Brissett completed 3 of 5 passes for 31 yards. Driskel was 10 of 16 for 114 yards. His biggest play was a 10-yard pass to Hammond, who put a hand on the ground for stabilization, turned up field and broke two arm tackles en route to the longest reception in his five years in Gainesville.
Hammond credited Gillislee for helping set up the long pass play.
"Establishing the run game is definitely important because that will pull backers in, leave us in man coverage and that's something that we want so we can stretch the field vertically," Hammond said.
Hammond's score made it 24-14, enough to put away the offensively challenged Falcons.
Florida, though, was on its heels in the third quarter.
Driskel threw a poor pass to Trey Burton on a fourth-and-1 play, and the Falcons seized the momentum.
Brian Schmiedebusch, who looks more like a fullback than a punter, gained 8 yards on a fourth-down fake. He juked Jabari Gorman on the play, which ended with an extra 15 yards for a late hit out of bounds.
Anthon Samuel capped the drive with a 12-yard run on a counter play. A game in which Florida was favored by more than four touchdowns all of a sudden was tied at 14.
The Gators, though, took advantage of a 10-yard punt to pull ahead 17-14 lead. Even then, things were dicey after Omarius Hines fumbled in Florida territory. Bowling Green didn't capitalize, though.
Matt Schilz threw an interception on the first play of the fourth quarter. Chris Gallon tipped the ball over the middle, and it landed in Marcus Roberson's hands.
"We're bummed," said Schilz, who completed 24 of 49 passes for 204 yards. "We thought we had the game there against a really good team, so everyone is really bummed right now. We played them tough, but it's still a loss."
Three plays after the pick, Hammond changed the tenor of the game.
Gillislee did the rest, breaking tackles, grinding out yards, extending drives and milking the clock. He could be the key to Muschamp's plan to be a power running team like Southeastern Conference heavyweights Alabama and LSU.
"It went as I expected. I didn't think it was going to be easy," Gillislee said. "This is the chance and opportunity I dreamed about, and now is the moment."