According to the stat sheet, it was a marquee night for Lamical Perine. The Florida Gators running back capped his career in the orange and blue as the Orange Bowl MVP. He put on a performance that will surely increase his NFL Draft stock and he set several records.
Just consider a few of the notes sent out by the University Athletic Association on Perine’s game.
He rushed for a career-high 138 yards, 7th highest in Florida bowl history, plus five receptions for 43 yards for a total of three touchdowns. He almost had a fourth but replay determined he’d stepped out on the 1-yard line. He became the first UF running back since Fred Taylor to win bowl game MVP honors and the first player in school history to nab a receiving and rushing touchdown in multiple bowl games, having done the same in last season’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. This particular nugget of history allowed Perine to by-pass Percy Harvin in the record books, who had achieved the feat as well but in one bowl as opposed to two.
As a running back, he is one of six in FBS this season to post five or more touchdown receptions, an adaptation he made to improve his NFL Draft stock and still be an impact when the Gators offense shifted to the air. His fifth receiving touchdown, that came on Monday night, is the most by a Gators back since James Jones caught five in 1982. And with his 2,485 career yards and seven games of 100+ yards, seventh all-time in Florida history.
So yea, it was a marquee night for Lamical Perine. But it was what he’s been doing his entire career for the Gators. Whenever Florida needed a play, Perine was there. Whenever a game became one dimensional, Perine adapted. Whatever Florida needed to win, it seemed more often than not to be Perine that delivered. Quietly, not always getting the recognition, even when the running game was nonexistent, Perine became the bell cow in whatever capacity necessary.
For these reasons and more, Lamical Perine leaves Gainesville as the most vital player to the Gators offensive resurgence and the foundation on whom they can build this next decade.
“Lamical comes back for his senior year and everyone is like, OK, he's one of the top running backs in the SEC. He is. I think you saw that [Monday night],” commented head coach Dan Mullen.
“Everyone gets caught—well, his stats say this or just what the stats say. But you know what, you look at every time we needed a big run during the season, he came up with a lot of big runs during the season.
“He also showed he's probably one of the top receiving backs in the country coming out of the backfield. You know what—instead of worrying about, hey, where are my rushing stats, he worried about am I doing what I need to do to help the team win and to be the great player on the team when the game is on the line that they can go to me, run or throw or protect the quarterback, and I'm going to be ready to make a play.”
Consider, Florida doesn’t defeat No. 7 Auburn without Perine’s 88-yard touchdown run for the go-ahead score. It was the longest run by a Florida back since Emmitt Smith in 1988 and enable the Gators to defeat at Top 10 team at home.
He did the same against Florida State in 2018, breaking off a 74-yard touchdown run that opened the flood gates, allowing the Gators to defeat their bitter rivals for the first time in five years.
Against Virginia on Monday, on the third play of the game, he showed off the speed that Auburn didn’t think was enough as a recruit, to beat everyone on the field for a 61-yard house call to kick off the game.
But it’s more than the long runs that have made Perine so valuable. It’s the consistent production and willingness to always be where his team might need him, just in case, that has helped the Gators put together back-to-back 10 win seasons.
On a 4th and 1 play against Virginia, Dan Mullen unsurprisingly elected to go for it. He called a play but Kyle Trask checked into a different one at the line. Trask checked into a play that had never let he or former quarterback Feleipe Franks down, purely because it relied on Perine. After taking the snap, Trask ran let to draw the defender on the QB keeper. At the edge, he pitched it to Perine who did the rest. The chains moved and Florida scored two plays later (thanks again to Perine who picked up 23-yards and got the offense to the 1-yard line).
“Good check on the play,” applauded Mullen.
“Went up to the line of scrimmage, they were pound—they had everybody pinned inside, he checked to the pitch to the outside because they had everybody lined up inside. It was a great check by Kyle, great job by Lamical, obviously a veteran player knowing what he needed to do to get the 1st down and all those things.”
On senior night in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Lamical Perine didn’t have a touchdown. But he still did his part when needed, picking up blitzes and blocking when needed. Yet when the clock hit 0:00, he didn’t hang his head but instead walked to the stands with fans screaming his name and took one last victory lap in the place that had shaped him. For the Alabama kid who scraped together money for a bus ticket just to get to Florida camp and be noticed, it was a humbling moment, leaving as one of the most beloved Gators in a long time.
“My sophomore year we was 4-7, not making a bowl game, having a month off, so that kind of hurt me. But just these past two years, man, have just been an amazing feeling, just having a guy [like Coach Mullen] who knows how to win at Florida and has already won championships. Me being able to believe in that and just trusting the process that he had for us, it was just an amazing feeling.”
As a thank you in return, the Gators had their best rushing performance of the season, putting together an offensive line and game plan that highlighted the humble hero who has stepped up time and time again.
The Florida Gators head into 2020 as a program poised to be elite. They can thank Lamical Perine for that.