Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Is Darius Willis Indiana's Tailback Answer?
Is Darius Willis IU’s tailback answer?
Hold that thought.
Once upon a time, when Bill Mallory was coaching the Hoosiers, running backs reigned supreme.
Specifically, it was Anthony Thompson, Vaughn Dunbar and Alex Smith who helped turn IU into a mini Running Back U.
Thompson set the school rushing record with 5,299 yards. Smith had 3,492 yards in three years. Dunbar had 3,029 yards in two years. Dunbar’s 1,805 rushing yards in 1991 remains the school record.
The tailback dominated attack is tough to duplicate in this more sophisticated era, when offenses are often spread and defenses are relentlessly swift.
Still, the Hoosiers are committed to the run and have Willis, a talented sophomore back who has struggled to stay healthy. He rushed for 607 yards and six touchdowns last year in nine games while averaging 4.9 yards a carry. That average beats Thompson’s average in three of his seasons, two of Smith’s seasons and one of Dunbar’s seasons.
The Big Ten returns a ton of quality running backs and that doesn’t include Purdue’s Ralph Bolden, who is expected to miss the season after blowing out his knee in the spring.
It also doesn’t include Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who rushed for 779 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 4.8 yards a carry.
So where does Willis rate?
Let’s take a look.
The two most heralded returning running backs are Wisconsin’s John Clay and Penn State’s Evan Royster.
The 6-1, 248-pound Clay follows in a long line of big Wisconsin backs. He surpassed 100 rushing yards nine times and finished with 1,517 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Royster rushed for 1,169 yards and six touchdowns.
There’s also Iowa’s Adam Robinson (834 yards) and Brandon Wegher (641), Ohio State’s Brandon Saine (739) and Dan Herrono (600), Illinois’ Mike Leshoure (734) and Jason Ford (588).
Of course, a running back’s numbers often reflect the quality of the offensive line as much as the back’s skill. But as far as sheer running ability, the 6-foot, 225-pound Willis has the size, speed, strength and skill you want in a dominant running back.
Do you remember him out-racing the entire Michigan defense en route to a huge late touchdown that put IU on the brink of victory? Of course you do. He had 152 rushing yards against the Wolverines and later had 103 against Northwestern and 142 against Purdue.
Willis can do more of that and will need to if IU is to have a winning record. He has to be a big-play threat as well as a consistent performer. That’s why Indiana recruited him, and if he lives up to his potential, the Hoosiers will have a chance to have a special season.
So is Willis Indiana's tailback answer?
The answer is, he'd better be.