Bloomington – In the week leading up to Saturday's Cream and Crimson spring game, IU Coach Bill Lynch said there's always someone who emerges in the spring game.
Maybe it's someone who's been a little bit lost in the two-deep shuffle, or perhaps it's a player who performs better in a game-type atmosphere as opposed to the daily grind of practice.
Or, as was the case Saturday, maybe it's someone who everyone has been patiently waiting on like running back Darius Willis.
The highly-touted redshirt freshman running back carried 13 times for 80 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that showed off both power and speed, to help the Crimson to a 28-27 win over the Cream on a bright, sunny day at Memorial Stadium.
It wasn't so much Willis' totals that stood out – both Demetrius McCray (10 carries, 84 yards) and Trea Burgess (10 carries, 92 yards, 2 TDs) put up bigger numbers Saturday. But after sitting out last season because the staff didn't want to burn a year of eligibility and missing a portion of spring practice with both a groin and knee injury, Willis showed off the tools that made him a coveted recruit two summers ago.
"I was very anxious today," Willis said. "It was tough being on the sidelines for a year, not playing and just practicing. Now the redshirt year is over."
Willis' time on the sidelines appears over as well. While Bryan Payton (12 carries, 46 yards), McCray and Burgess are very much in the mix to be a part of the running back rotation next season, it's obvious that Willis will be a big part of an IU offensive attack that will look to run the ball more frequently and efficiently than it has in the last couple of seasons.
If Saturday's spring game is any indication, they'll have a chance to do just that. The Cream and the Crimson combined to rush for 281 yards on 65 carries, with McCray, Willis and Burgess all eclipsing the 80-yard barrier. The ground game also produced some big plays, with Burgess scoring on fourth-quarters runs of 30 and 35 yards and McCray ripping off a 41-yard gainer in the opening quarter.
The ability to run the ball freed up some things in the passing game as well. Ben Chappell finished 14-of-22 for 205 yards and two touchdowns for the Cream, while Teddy Schell (9-of-11, 130 yards, 1 TD) and Adam Follett (6-of-9, 64 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) both had the Crimson's offense on the move for much of the afternoon as well.
"I think we had a very productive spring (with the running game)," said running backs coach Dennis Springer. "They're excited, and so am I."
Springer was excited that he was able to see Willis in action on Saturday, something that wasn't a certainty until moments before kickoff. Willis had missed a couple of days of practice this week with a knee, but was cleared to play by the medical staff and looked better and better as the game wore on.
"I don't know (where he was health wise) today, but he was good enough today, I know that," joked Springer. "He was good enough to get a few carries and run with some speed and power, so he's close enough."
Approximately 400 turned out for IU's spring game on a warm, sunny day at Memorial Stadium, and they were treated to more than just some solid efforts from IU's tailbacks. They also witnessed a back-and-forth game that wasn't decided until the game's final minute.
After jumping to a 14-7 halftime lead on touchdown runs by McCray and Willis, the Crimson extended the lead to 21-7 on the opening play of the fourth quarter on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Follett to Damarlo Belcher. That 14-point cushion was erased, though, by the two big touchdown runs by Burgess, the final one coming from 35 yards out with 2:20 remaining. Kicker Nick Freeland had banged the extra point off the upright after the first of Burgess' runs, but Chappell erased that mistake by hoisted a short pass to Mitchell Evans for the game-tying two-point conversion.
The Cream's momentum was short-lived, as the Crimson answered with a 48-yard touchdown strike from Teddy Schell to Chris Banks to go up seven with 1:01 left. The Crimson countered, first with a 31-yard kickoff return by Tandon Doss to give them the ball near midfield with just under a minute remaining. Then, on the ensuing play, Chappell connected on a throw to Payton along the sideline, and the senior running back avoided going out of bounds and raced 48 yards for the scored 43 seconds remaining.
Trailing by one, the Cream opted to go for the two-point conversion and the win, but Burgess was stuffed on an up-the-middle run to secure the win for the Crimson.
Willis Helps Crimson Slip Past Cream, 28-27
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