Opurum Continues to Attract Attention

I wouldn't call the relationship between Kansas coach Mark Mangino and freshman RB Toben Opurum a bromance yet, but it's close.

Toben Opurum had yet another solid performance that belied his age and experience Saturday in KU's 41-36 win over upstart Iowa State. It was the kind of tremendous effort that Jayhawk fans are coming to expect of the young man. It was also one that made Kansas head coach Mark Mangino downright giddy.

Opurum rushed the ball 24 times for 98 yards and caught two passes for 17 more in the absence of senior RB Jake Sharpe, who dressed but never saw the field.

It was a solid, productive offensive performance, but Opurum's total offense wasn't what caught Mangino's eye. What got the coach's attention was Opurum's blocking.

"He pass protected nearly flawlessly," Mangino said.

See, Mark Mangino absolutely loves running backs who block. Too many of them don't like to. They just want their touches. Blocking is, well, icky.

Based on Saturday's performance, Toben Opurum likes blocking like a fat kid likes cake. Opurum's blocking was so good, Mangino all but named him an honorary offensive lineman.

The coach gushed, "Certainly, our offense was fantastic tonight. The offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage all night. It was one of the finest jobs of pass protection that I think I've ever been associated with in a single game. You can put Toben Opurum in there, who's picking up blitzes as a true freshman."

That's what made Opurum special Saturday: Iowa State threw plenty of blitzes Reesing's way, and Opurum's displayed a spooky good knack for picking them up. And when Opurum picked up a blitz, he didn't just chip a blitzing Cyclone linebacker. He took him on head-top-head and either stopped him dead in his tracks or even moved him backwards.

OG Brad Thorson said that Opurum has the respect of all the o-linemen because of his lunch-bucket work ethic and his innate ability for making a key block that makes a pass play go.

"In practice, he sees things you don't expect him to see. He picks up stuff that isn't his responsibility. It speaks volumes to his dedication, to the amount of time he's willing to put in, because he's way behind the rest of us. I've for three-and-a-half, four years of college football, and I've seen a lot of things. This is all new, all new looks to him," Thorson said.

Opurum said that he's worked hard on his blocking since arriving in Lawrence, but he said he wasn't doing anything anyone else on the team wasn't doing.

"I definitely feel like my blocking has improved since we got here. It's something that, obviously,  we had to concentrate on, working with the type of offense we run. We've all improved at it."

Being a good blocker is part of what makes the Kansas offense work, and it's also a byproduct of the offense.

"When we pass the ball like we do, you've gotta be ready to do that," he said.

His improvement and almost-instantaneous impact on the program is especially impressive, considering he's coming off an injury suffered his senior year at Plano East High School in Texas. Mangino credited his running back for playing hard despite being gassed. He was also quick t to point out that Opurum's lack of conditioning, however, isn't his fault.  

"He didn't work out this summer. He wasn't cleared to work out. He wasn't cleared until training camp, so he had to get in shape in training camp. And this isn't the 1950s: when everybody around you shows up for training camp in shape, it's hard for you. And you know what? After two or three weeks, you'd have thought he had been here all summer, running up and down stadium steps. He really is a competitive guy."

Jeez, Coach. Get a room.

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