The strength of the Illinois football team’s offense last year was the running backs, and they have a duo with tons of potential heading into the 2022 campaign.
Last season, Chase Brown and Josh McCray were two of the bright spots for the Illini on what was a bad offensive unit. Brown rushed for 1,005 yards and five touchdowns and was named All-Big Ten third-team. McCray rushed for 549 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman.
These two combined for the most rushing yards of any Illinois running back duo since Mikel Leshoure and Jason Ford in 2010. Honestly, I think these two have the potential to have another good year sharing the backfield, and they could stamp their name as one of the best duos to ever put on an Illinois uniform.
Leshoure and Ford arguably had one of the best single seasons together in Illini history. Together, they combined for 2,177 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns. Brown and McCray could certainly put up similar numbers to those next season.
Illinois football head coach Bret Bielema has a good history of running back duos.
At Wisconsin and Arkansas, Bret Bielema had multiple years where his running backs combined for over 2,000 yards.
When Bielema was their head coach at Wisconsin, John Clay, James White, and Monte Ball combined for 3,060 yards on the ground in 2010, and Ball and White combined for 2,636 yards in each of the following two seasons in 2011 and 2012.
Bielema’s stop at Arkansas had both Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams rush for 1,100 yards and 1,190 yards on the ground, respectively, in 2014. Collins also went over 1,000 yards every year under Bielema.
Brown has only gotten better for Illinois every year, while McCray gained more trust from this coaching staff as a freshman. In the middle of the season, McCray actually saw games where he got similar rushing attempts as Brown.
This coaching staff knows the talent that these two players possess. I think Brown and McCray will put up close numbers to that of the Leshoure and Ford duo.
Illinois’ offense has a much higher ceiling this season with new offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr and quarterback Tommy Devito. With a new offensive coordinator and quarterback in the fold, it should open up the offense, which will allow Brown and McCray to run wild.
Look for Brown and McCray to be a great one-two punch for the Illini again in 2022. These two have a chance to be one of the greatest Illinois football running back duos in program history.