Running back benefits from Western's bulk up front

Running back benefits from Western's bulk up front
Sophomore running back Max Norris led Western Illinois in rushing Saturday and scored a third-quarter touchdown. (Photo by WIU)

Every time Max Norris gets the football, he has bulk on his side.

At 5-foot-10 and 207 pounds, it’s not his own size that matters most. It’s that of his offensive line at Western Illinois, which averages 304.4 pounds and whose shortest starter is 6-3 senior center Jacob Judd.

Max Norris

Max Norris

“They’re a really great line,” said Norris, a sophomore running back from Greenwood, Ind. “They make holes and move big fellas. Coming from high school, my line was really small. They were really short. When I got to college, I had 6-4 and 300-some pounds to run behind.”

The veteran WIU line includes senior Josh Baldus (6-5, 300) at left tackle, senior Jordan Detweiler (6-5, 300) at left guard, junior Drew Wagner (6-6, 312) at right guard and senior James Torgerson (6-5, 310) at right tackle.

They have paved the way for Norris, who is filling in for injured 2016 starter Steve McShane. In two games, Norris has rushed for 236 yards. He ranks second in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in rushing yards per game.

“You only get so many opportunities in life,” Norris said. “I took the opportunity and ran with it. I’m satisfied with how hard I’ve played.”

He described his running style as simply, “north and south, powerful.”

Norris is averaging 5.6 yards a carry and has helped WIU, the 19th-ranked team in this week’s STATS Football Championship Subdivision poll, to a 2-0 start. On Saturday, the Leathernecks visit former FBS power Coastal Carolina (1-1), which is in its first season in the Sun Belt Conference of the Football Bowl Subdivision.

They will travel to South Carolina with an offense averaging 39.5 points and 432.5 yards a game.

“Our wide receivers are animals,” Norris said. “We’ve got a good running game, good line, good quarterback. We’re a very unselfish group.”

McShane, who rushed for more than 900 yards along with eight touchdowns last season, injured his ankle in the first quarter of WIU’s season opener and likely will return for the MVFC season. Having McShane back already has Norris excited at the possibility of an even stronger offense.

“Steve and I have talked a lot about that,” Norris said. “We know with his speed and agility and my strength, It’s going to be hard to stop us. We can be a deadly duo.”

The game

Western Illinois (2-0) at Coastal Carolina (1-1), 5:30 p.m. , Myrtle Beach, S.C. (Game will air on ESPN3.com and WRMSFM.com)

Three key matchups

  1. WIU secondary vs. Coastal QB Tyler Keane: Keane has throw three interceptions in the first two games. The revamped WIU defensive backfield has four picks in two games. The Leathernecks had only 12 interceptions in 11 games last season.
  2. Coastal RB Osharmar Abercrombie vs. WIU run defense: Abercrombie is averaging 112 yards a game and has four TDs. He faces a WIU defense allowing only 28.5 yards per game.
  3. WIU vs. the clock: Perhaps the best thing Coastal’s offense does is hold the ball. The Chanticleers have averaged 8 minutes, 18 seconds more time of possession than opponents.

Key stat

Over the past 13 games dating back to last season, WIU linebackers Brett Taylor and Quentin Moon have combined to average 19.6 tackles a game.

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