LeShoure cementing his spot in Illini backfield

In the Illinois football team’s second drive during its 24-14 loss at Purdue on Oct. 24 , Mikel LeShoure cut through the Purdue defensive line at the Illinois 31-yard line and thought he was free for the end zone.

But LeShoure was tackled at the 4-yard line, leaving Daniel Dufrene to score the Illini’s opening touchdown.

“Part of the reason that I got caught at Purdue was that I thought I was clear after I passed those guys,” LeShoure said.

The sophomore running back was in a similar situation Saturday against Michigan. This time, LeShoure wouldn’t be caught ­­— he made sure of it.

“Not this time. Unlike Purdue, I just kept top speed that I had and I just kept going until I got to the end zone,” LeShoure said of his 70-yard third-quarter run that put the Illini ahead 14-13.

“This time, there wasn’t no slowing down until I got there.”

LeShoure came into the season under the radar, with fellow sophomore Jason Ford and Dufrene receiving most of the running back hype.

But after he finished the Michigan game with 150 yards on 21 carries, LeShoure seems to have separated himself from the rest of the runners.

“Reminds me of another guy that wore the same jersey,” quarterback Juice Williams said, comparing LeShoure to 2008 first-round NFL draft pick Rashard Mendenhall, who also wore No. 5 before LeShoure. “I was looking for him to get clipped up.”

LeShoure’s long touchdown run ignited an offense that has been stagnant throughout the year, as the Illini marched up and down the field to score 31 second-half points in a game that ended as a rout.

Williams has played on a Rose Bowl team and has seen his fair share of offense during his Illini career. But Saturday’s third quarter, he said, was special.

“It’s hard to think of another time when we were clicking like that,” Williams said. “I think we had four straight drives when we put up points, and that’s something that’s very hard to do. Like I said, that’s a tribute to my teammates and the hard work and dedication of putting themselves in.”

LeShoure wasn’t the only 220-pound-plus running back to show breakaway speed, though.

“It’s 21 (Jason Ford), too, they can run. Those physical guys can run, that doesn’t surprise me,” head coach Ron Zook said of Ford, who streaked past the Michigan defense for a 79-yard touchdown run of his own in the fourth quarter.

The win and the ignited offense seem to have the Illini sporting a different attitude.

“There’s a lot more excitement in the locker room. People are walking around with their heads held high,” LeShoure said.