Since Ron Zook took over at Illinois (2005), the top two rushing teams in the Big Ten have been Illinois and Wisconsin. It will surprise you, but the leagues top rushing team is the Illini, while the Badgers are second. Another surprising fact: the two schools are tied for 5th most players on current NFL rosters among Big Ten teams.
This season is very young, but so far if you look at the Leaders division, two teams stand out from the rest.
Illinois and Wisconsin are the only two squads in that division nationally ranked, meaning their game on 11/19, the second to last of the regular season, will be huge for deciding who goes to the inaugural Big Ten championship game.
Once again, both teams are doing it on the ground.
For part one of this series, on Wisconsin- go here.
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).
The Illini’s 206.7 yards per game (15,913 yards in 77 games) in the last six-plus seasons tops Wisconsin’s 200.9 ypg (16,470 yards in 82 games) during that same time span. 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.
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). Illinois is 14th in the nation in rushing currently.
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.
And he continues the famed tradition of #5 in Champaign: Mikel Leshoure (a Detroit Lions rookie who will miss the season with an injury) and the Pittsburgh Steelers Rashard Mendenhall (who’s developed into a Pro Bowl, 1,000 yard rusher style NFL back) it’s easy to see why the jersey number is starting to take on a special meaning for Illinois Fighting Illini football.
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.
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