There's not one running back capable of replacing Rashard Mendenhall, who carried Illinois with single-season rushing records last season. The Illini have plans for a running back by committee, and freshman Jason Ford might have earned himself more carries with his performance Monday night.

There's not one running back capable of replacing Rashard Mendenhall, who carried Illinois with single-season rushing records last season.

The Illini have plans for a running back by committee, and freshman Jason Ford might have earned himself more carries with his performance Monday night in Illinois' scrimmage in front of 2,000 fans at Rantoul High School.

The 6-foot, 220-pounder from Belleville Althoff High School gained 53 yards on 11 carries and scored a touchdown, showing how he set the career St. Louis-area prep rushing record of 6,415 yards.

Junior Daniel Dufrene had 60 yards rushing and one touchdown on 10 carries. Dufrene continues as the first-stringer in preseason camp, but Ford's hard-running, downhill style will get him plenty of carries this fall if he can pick up the other responsibilities such as pass protection and pass catching.

Redshirt freshman Troy Pollard, who played three games last season before suffering a knee injury, and freshman Mikel LeShoure rushed for 18 yards apiece.

"Right now, Dufrene is clearly our starter,'' offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said. "He's our guy. He ran the ball well. He showed the toughness we want from that position. Right now going into (the season), he's our leader.

"Pollard showed he's got confidence from the injury standpoint. He put the ball up inside pretty well. He's clearly our No. 2 guy because of game experience. The two young guys both did some things pretty well. I've been pleased with the running backs so far.''

Ford wasn't afraid to lower his shoulder, and he also had a spin move on a 16-yard gain that set up his 1-yard touchdown run.

"He's going to be a great player for this team,'' said quarterback Juice Williams. "He was able to break tackles, run away from guys and make people miss. The running game is always going to be there. We want to make sure there's a balance between rushing and passing.''

Williams was efficient, completing 11-for-17 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Knowledge of the offense and a better touch on the ball - knowing when to throw line drives and when to lob it in there - is making his job easier.

"(Passing touch) is something you learn through experience,'' said Williams, holding his daughter La-Chez before boarding the team bus back to the Camp Rantoul facilities. "If he's only 6 yards away, there's no need to drill it.''

Williams and backup quarterback Eddie McGee were hampered by a quick whistle. Anytime they were touched, the play was dead. Thus, their rushing stats suffered, and two quarterbacks who can make plays with their feet didn't have big rushing yards.

On defense, coach Ron Zook isn't afraid to use his best three linemen, even if they're all ends. With Derek Walker and Doug Pilcher at end, he moved Will Davis to defensive tackle for a series of plays - giving an athletic defensive front even more explosiveness.

"You want to put the three best guys out there,'' Zook said. "We have a lot of depth at the defensive end position and not quite as much at defensive tackle.''

First-string defensive tackle Sirod Williams didn't play after injuring the medial collateral ligament in his right knee Saturday. Williams didn't dress Monday.

NOTES: East St. Louis wide receiver KRAIG APPLETON, ranked 10th at his position nationally by Rivals.com, committed to the Illini on Monday. . . Illinois left tackle XAVIER FULTON survived a scare by walking off the field after what looked like an ankle injury. He didn't play the rest of the game but didn't even limp to the bus. . . Sophomore walk-on wide receiver ALEX REAVY of Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin played with the first string as the fourth receiver but didn't make a catch. . . . No score was kept in the scrimmage.

John Supinie can be reached at 377-1977.

AT RANTOUL

Illini scrimmage

Scoring plays

Benn 14 pass from Williams (Eller kick); Ford 1 run (no conversion attempt); Dimke 39 FG; James 1 pass from Williams; Dufrene 2 run

Individual statistics

Rushing: McGee 12-(41), Ford 11-53, Dufrene 10-60, LeShoure 10-18, Williams 8-4, Pollard 3-18, Benn 1-6, Burgess 1-3, Charest 1-(-3), Pacha 1-(-6).

Passing: Williams 11-17-0-150, McGee 7-13-0-117, Charest 6-9-1-83, Anderson 1-1-0-6.

Receiving: Wilkins 5-48, Judson 4-53, Dufrene 2-48, Hoomanawanui 2-31, Benn 2-19, LeShoure 1-34, Becker 1-32, McClendon 2-24, Sykes 1-20, Cumberland 1-19, Smith 1-9, Ramsey 1-9, Jenkins 1-9, James 1-1.

Defensive leaders

Wilson - 8 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack; Bussey - 8 tackles; W. Davis - 5 tackles, 3 sacks.