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Monday, Feb. 26
The Indiana Daily Student

sports football

IU running backs in search of redemption

IU Football vs. Illinois

After two weeks of lackluster offense, the IU running backs have a chance to redeem themselves Saturday against the worst rushing defense in the Big Ten.

But while Illinois allows an average of 185 yards and two touchdowns on the ground each game, IU assistant head coach and running backs coach Dennis Springer said it is crucial never to look past an opponent based on standings.

“The one thing you will find in the Big Ten is that it doesn’t matter where they are statistically,” Springer said. “Everybody is going to come play their best game against whoever they are playing in the league. The run game is important no matter who you are playing, whether they are first or last.”

And for the Hoosiers to be successful Saturday, the IU rushing attack must be more effective than it has been the past two games.

In their first four matchups, the Hoosiers’ explosive running backs averaged 160 yards on the ground en route to a 3-1 start. But against Ohio State and Virginia – both losses by a combined 59 points – the running backs were almost nonexistent and contributed largely to the outcomes.

Against the Buckeyes and Cavaliers, IU rushed for a total of 100 yards and an average of 1.7 yards per carry.

The limited success running the football early in those games enabled opposing defenses to drop back in coverage and focus on IU junior quarterback Ben Chappell.

Senior running back Demetrius McCray said establishing a balanced offense is the key to victory.

“That just comes with working hard every day in practice and executing better than we have been the past two weeks,” McCray said. “(Last week) we needed to step up the energy level. We have to get back to playing as a team and as one unit.”

IU freshman running back Darius Willis, who had 152 yards rushing against Michigan on Sept. 26, is questionable for Saturday’s contest because of an ankle injury.

With or without Willis, IU will need to get a full effort on both sides of the ball to earn its first conference win.

In Illinois, the Hoosiers will face either Juice Williams or Eddie McGee at the quarterback position. Williams, a four-year starter, has lacked consistency all season with only 628 passing yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.

Since being benched against Michigan State last week, he has been battling in practice with McGee for the No. 1 spot on Saturday.

Fighting Illini running back Jason Ford leads the team with 213 yards rushing and a touchdown.

But despite Illinois’ total offense and defense ranking No. 9 and No. 11 in the conference, respectively, its level of competition has been tough. The team’s four losses have come to perennial conference leaders in Missouri, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State.

IU sophomore cornerback Donnell Jones said the little things will make the difference against Illinois.

“We need more enthusiasm and have to stay strong the entire game,” Jones said. “Most of the problems (last week) were us. We have to get back to playing IU football.”

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