While Illinois’ rushing offense has remained dominant, the Illini are doing it by committee this year rather then relaying on one dominant runner like they did in 2007 (Rashard Mendenhall) and 2010 (Mikel Leshoure). Four different Illini have over 200 rushing yards on the season, and all four have scored at least one rushing TD.
Senior RB Troy Pollard (a runner in the Daniel Dufrene, Rocky Harvey mold) leads the Illini ground attack with a team-high 260 yards on only 25 carries (10.4 ypc). A fifth-year senior, Pollard (nicknamed “Bucket of hair” for obvious reasons) ran for a career-high 133 yards on 14 attempts (9.5 ypc) last week against Western Michigan, marking his second 100-yard effort in the last three games (101 vs. South Dakota State on 9/10).
He provides the “lightning” in the “thunder and lightning” type backfield approach. Freshman Donovonn Young is the thunder.
In addition to Young and Pollard, Senior RB Jason Ford has 23 career rushing TDs, tying him with Mikel Leshoure, Ty Douthard and Red Grange for seventh on the UI career list. He needs just two more to move up to second place and is eight behind Howard Griffith’s UI career record of 31. Ford currently ranks 19th on the UI career rushing list (1,577 yards). And don’t forget sophomore fullback Jay Prosch, who’s blocking paves the way.
Prosch is ranked among the top fullback prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft class.
Pollard talked about his star turn on Saturday.
“Coach (Petrino) had a great feeling about who was running and what was going on. He felt like I could make the best contribution to the team, so I just did my job,” he said.
Illinois’ 241.8 ypg this season ranks 14th in the nation. The Illini have finished the season ranked in the top-20 nationally in rushing yards per game in four of the last five years. Over 70 percent of Illinois’ plays this season have been runs (197 rushes in 281 total offensive plays). The Illini have led the conference in rushing in three of the last five years (2006, ’07 and ’10).
Illini Head Coach Ron Zook talked about the health of the running game.
“As I said, we’re going to use all those guys, and all those guys – you need all those guys. And until somebody – if and when somebody does stand up and take over, then fine.
I think it was the fifth or the sixth game that Rashard Mendenhall, if you remember, and it was maybe the third game that Mikel Leshoure really took off last year. So, but you need all those guys and I think one of things that we’ve been fortunate enough in the running game is to have more than one back. And what that does is that gives you an opportunity, you know, to keep them fresh. They got a lot less chance of getting hurt if they’re fresh than if they’re not.”
In the offseason, Prosch was named to Bruce Feldman’s 2011 “Freaks” list, which highlights college football’s top workout warriors. Prosch was the only Big Ten player on the list. He was also named a workout warrior by ESPN.com. According to strength and conditioning coach Lou Hernandez, Prosch is the first Illini football player to hang clean over 400 pounds. Prosch played linebacker and offensive guard in high school, but has made the transition to fullback by upping his weight from 245 to 255 while at the same time dropping his body fat from 11 percent to nine percent.
Prosch talked about the team’s new found toughness in 2011, as they are now in a second season with the new coordinators.
“Camp this year was a thousand times better than last year (due to it being a new year with the coordinators), and we all believe a little bit more this year. Last we were all in, but we really weren’t sure how good we could be. But this year, everybody knows that if we come out and play as hard as we can than we can pretty much be unstoppable. And once everyone believes that, and starts playing like that, it’s the difference between this year and last year,” he said on the day of his first career carry.
Fullback is a position that gets overlooked and doesn’t get a lot of glory, like an offensive lineman. I asked Prosch about that/how he feels about it.
“Honestly I don’t mind, I don’t enjoy it, but I’m not hungry for publicity, stuff like that doesn’t matter to me. I just try to be the best I can and whatever comes from that, I’m okay with,” he said.
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site that generates millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports
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