CHAMPAIGN — Reggie Corbin following a bye week was dangerous last season for Illinois football. Two weeks after what turned out to be the first (Penn State) of several (Wisconsin, Maryland, Nebraska, Iowa) brutal Big Ten losses, Corbin lit up Rutgers on the Scarlet Knights’ home turf for the first road win of the Lovie Smith era.
It only took the 5-foot-10, 200-pound running back 11 carries to rack up 137 rushing yards. A 73-yard touchdown run took care of most of the damage in a game where Illinois didn’t need the Upper Marlboro, Md., native to be its end-all, be-all on the offensive end.
So what might Corbin do Saturday at Minnesota given mostly all of last week to rest and recuperate given his post-bye week success a year ago? Ultimately 758 of his 1,085 rushing yards last season came after the bye.
“I didn’t even think about that,” Corbin said. “I guess I blew up, you know, but I don’t really see it as that. I just came back and went as hard as I can.”
A healthy Corbin could make a difference Saturday against the Gophers. Minnesota saw what he was capable of last season. He put up the eighth-most rushing yards in a single game in program history with his career-best 213-yard performance. That included touchdown runs of 72 and 77 yards in Illinois’ 55-31 victory at Memorial Stadium.
Corbin hasn’t been healthy almost all of this season, though. He suffered a hip pointer in the season-opening win against Akron and didn’t play the next week at UConn. Corbin rushed for 144 yards against Eastern Michigan and 134 more against Nebraska, but he did so still limited by that injury.
That’s why Corbin went to Miami during part of the bye week to work with his trainer.
“My health,” he said was the focus of his trip. “Just getting me 100 percent and getting everything realigned. All of the work’s been done over the summer. You bring it all back in and get ready to go again.
“They’re not changing me or anything like that. They’re just making me more of myself. That’s the best thing.”
Corbin needed to hit the reset button on his health. The hip pointer — a contusion on the pelvis that can also include bruising to the abdominal muscles — limited what he could do on the field even if the results didn’t show it. Corbin was held out of several series in both of Illinois’ previous two games.
“I was battling,” he said. “It was tough weeks. I was battling hard. Being able to play and get back to myself a little bit — as close as I can — and going out there and feeling like myself feels amazing and unreal. To be able to do the things I want with my legs now, I feel great.”
It was all physical recuperation during the bye week for Corbin. He never lost his mental edge.
“That’s why I was able to keep playing and keep pushing,” Corbin said. “It was terrible, man. It felt like I had one leg. But it was all good. That’s what you train over the summer for. To be able to go out there and play in those situations and knowing how to use leverage when you can’t really run. I haven’t been able to run full speed. It’s kind of crazy. People think so, but I haven’t.”
Here’s why. It wasn’t the first hip pointer Corbin has suffered during his football career, but he said it was the worst.
“I don’t think anybody should go through that,” Corbin said. “It’s usually just a facemask to the hip. It’s on the bone as well, so your groin is tight, abductor for sure. You can’t extend and run forward. You push off one leg. You don’t really have power. Moving laterally is hard.
“Then it ends up hurting your hamstring and your quad. It was tough. If it wasn’t for adrenaline Jesus. It’s painful. You can’t sleep on it. You can’t walk normal. Obviously you can’t run normal.”
No hints about which leg is feeling better, though.
“I won’t tell you that one because they might try to hit it,” Corbin said.