Illinois, Iowa running games adjusting to new backs

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By Daniel Johnson

Both the Illinois and Iowa offense have had their ups and downs through the first eight games of the season. After both schools lost their starting running backs from last year, Iowa’s Albert Young and Illinois’ Rashard Mendenhall, the turnaround at the position was going to have a substantial effect on both teams.

The Hawkeyes’ new featured runner, Shonn Greene, had spent his first two collegiate years in the Iowa program, getting only 69 carries in his first two seasons. Greene left Iowa for academic reasons, heading to Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa but has returned to the school a new player. The back has rushed for 1,154 yards through eight games and is on pace to shatter Young’s 968-yard total from last year.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was asked if he thought Greene’s name should be getting a lot more national attention that it is, being second in the Big Ten to only Michigan State’s Javon Ringer in rushing yards and Iowa fans are pushing for a “Greene-out.”

“I don’t think that’s his goal when he plays,” Ferentz said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “He’s just out there trying to be as good a football player as he can be and help our team, and his attitude has been outstanding … He knows that, our whole team knows that, and if he truly wants to be in that mix, first of all, it depends on what the other players in the mix are doing.”

Illinois head coach Ron Zook spoke at his conference about Greene and his seeming longevity in the Conference.

“How old is that guy?” Zook said Tuesday. “He played against us my first year. Then he went to prep school, and then he went to junior college and came back. I’ll tell you what, when I start watching tape of him, the guy he reminds me of is the guy at Michigan last year (Mike Hart). One cut and just a good back. They don’t do an awful lot of things, and once again, like everybody, they force your defense to make the adjustments you have to make there.”

Illinois’ retooling at running back has been the quartet of Daniel Dufrene, Troy Pollard, Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford, who led the Illini in carries with 12 against Wisconsin.

Ford, a Belleville, Ill., native originally committed to the Hawkeyes, eyeing Young’s vacated starting spot, but de-committed after he had heard from Mendenhall he would be leaving after his junior year. Ford said Illinois had always been his first choice and coming to Champaign was something he wanted to do. While Ford’s decision to de-commit to his first choice is logical, there’s been less tolerance among the Iowa fan base.

“Ever since I de-committed, there’s been a lot of people from Iowa trash talking on Facebook and all that, sending me stuff,” Ford said. “They’ve been saying I’m terrible, and I’m not good enough to get into Iowa, stuff like that.”

Ford seems to be the backupchoice for the Illini during the reloading of the position, so he will likely have to become accustomed to the slings and arrows of Facebook.

“They’ve been poking me a whole bunch,” Ford said, laughing at the online abuse.

“I just try to take it in stride.”