Illini football leans on running back depth in opener


CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — A stable of running backs carried the load for Illinois against Nebraska in the season opener. Five backs carried the ball at least three times each in the 30-22 win over the Huskers.

Mike Epstein led the way with 16 carries for 75 yards and a touchdown, averaging 4.7 yards per rush. Reggie Love III got 12 touches for 45 yards, with Chase Brown (5 for 24), Jakari Norwood (3 for 16) and Chase Hayden (4 for 12) each pitching into the effort, with those five guys adding up to 172 yards.

“We’re going to need all those running backs,” Illinois offensive coordinator Tony Petersen said. “They might not all play evenly throughout a game, but to have five running backs who we feel like can go in a football game and win for us at this level is a blessing because you can go down a running back or two to in a heartbeat.”

“It all starts upfront, it starts with us,” Illinois senior center Doug Kramer Jr. said. “Our jobs just to block, not worry about who’s behind us. Just open up the lanes and give them as much room as we possibly can.”

Illinois won its Big Ten opener for the first time since 2015, coincidentally it was also against the Huskers in Champaign. Now the focus turns to UTSA for Saturday night’s 6:40 p.m. game at Memorial Stadium on BTN. The Roadrunners went 7-5 last season in Jeff Traylor’s first season with the program.

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