Despite a fairly proficient offense last year, IU's running game ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in total rushing yards, yards per carry, and touchdowns. An improved running game would help alleviate IU's red zone woes and would provide further support for the talented passing attack. Can it happen?
Darius Willis, 6-0 sophomore. Willis, despite some injury issues, led the Hoosiers with 607 yards and 6 TDs and averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Willis, Indiana's 2007 Mr. Football, was considered a key recruit for IU, and after a rough start, Willis came into his own in the Big Ten opener against Michigan, gaining 152 yards on 16 carries, including an 85-yard touchdown run that gave IU a fourth quarter lead. Willis also broke the 100 yard barrier against Northwestern and Purdue, but he missed three games with injuries.
Trea Burgess, 6-1 senior. Burgess has spent his first three years as a backup, and that trend seems likely to continue. He did run for 147 yards and 3 touchdowns as a junior, but his carries diminished as Willis took control of the starting job. Still, Burgess is an experienced back who will provide some depth.
Tandon Doss, 6-3 junior. Doss is a receiver, you say. While that is true, on various trick plays, and only 14 carries, Doss accounted for 127 rushing yards, nearly 10 percent of IU's output in 2009. Hopefully Doss's contributions will diminish on a percentage basis, but he has proved a threat on end arounds and similar plays.
Zach Davis-Walker, 5-8 junior. Davis-Walker, in his first two seasons, has only 30 carries for 116 yards, and only 7 last season.
Demetrius McCray, Bryan Payton. Both of these guys were solid contributors, and they ranked #2 and #4 among IU running backs in number of attempts. Still, they aren't huge losses.
Nick Turner, 6-0 redshirt freshman. Turner was a scout team offensive player of the year last season, and produced some eye-popping high school statistics at Southport in Indianapolis, rushing for 2062 yards and 26 TDs as a freshman for an uncharacteristically good (9-2) team for Southport.
Matt Perez, 5-11 true freshman. Perez was a Parade All-American and was named the Chicago-area player of the year by the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and ESPN. It's unclear if Perez or any other true freshman will play, but the IU staff was very happy to get this kid.
Antonio Banks, 5-10 true freshman. Banks enrolled at IU in January and participated in spring practice. He was IU's leading rusher, with 49 yards on 11 carries, in the spring game. Banks is from the a traditional Ohio football power, Middletown.
Xavier Whitaker, 6-2 true freshman. Whitaker had a strong junior season in Brookfield, Wisconsin, but missed most of his senior season after tearing his ACL in the second game of the season. The ACL injury would seem to make him a prime redshirt candidate.
Much like Ben Chappell is for the offense in general, Darius Willis is the key to IU's running game. He certainly showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman, but will have to remain healthy and become more consistent for the IU offense to be able to maintain a truly balanced attack. Hopefully, in his second year as primary back and third year in the program, he will be ready, and with any luck the others will be able to contribute as needed.