Illinois' Leshoure surely had some help

  • Northwestern's Justan Vaughn tries to tackle Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure in the first quarter Saturday at Wrigley Field. Leshoure rushed for a school-record 330 yards.

    Northwestern's Justan Vaughn tries to tackle Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure in the first quarter Saturday at Wrigley Field. Leshoure rushed for a school-record 330 yards. Associated Press

 
 

Mikel Leshoure's name goes into the Illinois record book after his 330 rushing yards in Saturday's win over Northwestern at Wrigley Field.

After reviewing the tape of the 48-27 victory, head coach Ron Zook and offensive coordinator Paul Petrino wouldn't mind adding a few teammates' names into the record book's footnotes for their blocking prowess.

"Talking to Paul a little bit, (fullback) Jay Prosch had an unbelievable day," Zook said. "Our guys got on them and stayed on them.

"It's a tribute to the offensive line. It's a tribute to Prosch. Paul said he thought Jay Prosch played probably as good a game as he'd ever seen a fullback play.

"The receivers ... any time you get guys downfield, your receivers have got to be blocking. Then, obviously, Mikel used his God-given ability."

On four of Leshoure's 33 carries, Prosch wiped out Northwestern middle linebacker Nate Williams up the middle to give the junior running back room to roam.

Illinois also introduced its jumbo package as 6-foot-4, 305-pound starting guard Hugh Thornton lined up at fullback in front of Leshoure three times.

On one second-quarter play, Prosch and Thornton teamed up to knock defensive tackle Niko Mafuli on his butt as Leshoure blasted for 4 yards.

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"We've been repping it in practice for a couple of weeks," Thornton said. "We had the opportunity to use it (Saturday) pull out all the weapons."

Next for NU?

Illinois' 48-point outburst represented the most points allowed by Northwestern during Pat Fitzgerald's head-coaching tenure at least against a team not named Ohio State.

The Wildcats dropped from 43rd to 82nd in the national rushing defense rankings after surrendering 519 yards to the Illini.

Here's the worse news: Wisconsin averages more rushing yards per game than Illinois. That makes Saturday's trip to Camp Randall Stadium that much more of a challenge against a Badgers squad trying to clinch a Big Ten title and a BCS bowl berth.

Before reviewing the tape, Fitzgerald expected to see a plethora of missed tackles contributing to Illinois' massive afternoon.

An unofficial third-party look at the tape suggested the Wildcats missed 9 tackles on Mikel Leshoure's 33 carries.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"That epidemic popped up a couple weeks ago (at Penn State) for some reason," Fitzgerald said. "It reared its ugly head again today. We've got to make up our mind what kind of defense we want to be."

NIU rules:

After clinching the MAC West title with a 59-21 win at Ball State on Saturday, Northern Illinois came up just short of its first Top 25 ranking since 2003.

Actually, the 2003 season marks the only time NIU has appeared in the national polls.

The Huskies (9-2) checked in this week at No. 26 in the USA Today coaches poll, the Harris Interactive poll and the Associated Press poll. They also fell just short in the BCS Top 25 rankings.

NIU will face either Ohio or Miami of Ohio in the MAC title game at 6 p.m. on Dec. 3 at Ford Field in Detroit.

Tickets, which range from $10-20, go on sale at 9 a.m. Monday. Huskies fans can call (800) 745-3000 or click on Ticketmaster.com.