Evaluating the Backfield for Illinois Fighting Illini

By Scott Peceny
Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

As spring practice begins in Champagne, one thing has become clear: 2-10 isn’t going to cut it.

The Illinois Fighting Illini head into this season trying to forget about their disappointing performance from a year ago, a year in which they failed to win a conference game.

In fact, they rarely even come close. The Illini’s closest conference game was a 20-17 loss to Purdue, and their second closest a 17-3 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

But the Illini are committed to improvement under head coach Tim Beckman. For starters, Illinois needs to figure out how to score points. At just 16.7 points per game, the Illini ranked dead last in the Big Ten in scoring. On three occasions, Illinois was held to seven points or fewer, and its most prolific conference game offensively was a 22-point performance against Ohio State.

Unfortunately for the Illini, the Buckeyes put up 52.

Playmakers score points, and the Illini believe that they have those players in the backfield. Illinois has two running backs that it likes in junior Donovonn Young and sophomore Josh Ferguson.

The running back tandem has the potential to put some points on the board for Illinois, and take some pressure off of quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. Young will be the likely starter, and is a big, powerful guy at 6-foot, 220 pounds. Ferguson is the more explosive of the two, and running backs coach Tim Salem has called Ferguson “electrifying.”

The Fighting Illini need help on offense from all 11 positions, but with a successful running game, this team can get much better offensively in 2013. They have a new offensive line coach in A.J. Ricker, who has had success at Western Michigan University.

With two solid runners and an improved offensive line, this Illini offense can only get better.

Heck, they might even win a conference game this year.

Follow me on twitter @ScottPeceny

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