Freshman running back carries load in victory

Sept. 26, 2009

Looking back at the game, Kansas freshman running back Toben Opurum didn’t realize how many touches he had gotten in the Jayhawks’ 35-28 win over Southern Mississippi until he had looked at the stats.

Finishing the day with 28 rushes for 109 yards, Opurum became the first KU freshman to run for over 100 yards since Clark Green in 2002. Green reached that mark twice during his freshmen year.

“I think it’s actually the most carries I’ve ever had in a game,” Opurum said. “My high school was a pass-first offense, so 28 carries was a lot.”

Opurum started in place of injured senior running back Jake Sharp.

In addition to the 109 yards on the ground and a two-yard rushing touchdown, Opurum also pulled in two receptions for 21 yards, one good for a 12-yard touchdown, his first career receiving touchdown.

Head coach Mark Mangino said the coaching staff downplayed the pressure of going into the game and starting as a true freshman all week long.

“It’s a difficult duty,” said Mangino, whose team moved to 4-0 on the season with the win. “He did a marvelous job. He ran hard and ran smart. He got good yardage after first contact. We’re really excited about his play today as a true freshman.”

Opurum has steadily progressed in each game and earned an increasing role in the Jayhawks’ offense. The 28 carries may have been a little overwhelming for the freshman who rushed for his sixth rushing touchdown of the year.

“It’s tiring to go from a supporting role to a starting role, but I think I prepared for it pretty well,” Opurum said.

On a day where the KU offense produced 433 total yards, they did encounter a more physical defense than they had in the three previous games. Opurum took a few hits from the opposition, but delivered a few hits himself to Golden Eagle defenders. “People mistake that about offense that we get hit all the time,” Opurum said. “You have to be able to deliver a blow yourself too.”

Senior quarterback Todd Reesing said the true freshman was getting better every week and praised his power and size in short yardage situations.

“He gives us a lot of options when he have short yardage situations and being able to lower his shoulder and get some extra yards,” Reesing said. “With Jake back for Iowa State and Toben getting a lot of good game experience the last two weeks, we have two solid backs, kind of get the thunder and lightning back again, which we’re going to like.”

Even with a strong performance, Opurum knew there was plenty to improve on after recording his first collegiate start.

“Basically we don’t want to be satisfied,” said Opurum. “This game here came down to the last minute and you can’t be satisfied with what you’ve done either in the first half or the first three quarters. You’ve got to play the entire game.”