USC Trojans: Expectations for Revamped Running Back Room
There’s no question as to the impact that Lincoln Riley is making in the recruiting department in his first month or so on the job as USC head coach, but almost more significant is what he has done in the transfer portal thus far.
A key area where we can see that impact is in the running back room. With former running backs Vavae Malepeai and Keaontay Ingram both declaring for this year’s NFL Draft, this was a position group with a lot of question marks and spots that need to be filled.
Malepeai had been in Los Angeles for five years he’s been a serviceable running back with 2,000 career rushing yards to his name as a Trojan. Last year, however, he had just 502 yards and six touchdowns, albeit on a career-high 114 carries. That’s not exactly elite production.
Thankfully, Clay Helton, like Riley had dipped into the transfer portal ahead of the season. He was able to nab fromer Texas running back Keaontay Ingram. He was undoubtedly the best running back on the roster. In his three years at Texas, he had racked up 1,800 yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging eight yards a carry. This past season as a Trojan he picked up where he left off averaging seven yards a carry, and totaling 911 yards and five touchdowns.
Behind those two carrying the load, the back half of this room leaves much to be desired. With Kenan Christon entering the transfer portal a week after this season concluded. That leaves former TCU transfer Darwin Barlow and former 4-star freshman, Brandon Campbell, the only backs going into spring camp.
This would be a lot harder to fix and replenish if your coach wasn’t named Lincoln Riley. Coach Riley has flipped former 5 star RB Raleek Brown from Oklahoma to Southern California. Brown had over 4100 rushing yards and 74 total touchdowns in high school. He is a smaller back in stature but there’s no denying the production of this elusive athlete.
However this five-star won’t have to start right away and shoulder the load by himself. What now should be considered the Lincoln Riley effect has caught the attention of players around the nation and especially in the Pac 12.
Former Stanford running back Austin Jones transferred to the trojans last week and gives this team much-needed depth at the position. Jones split carries and only had 380 yards rushing but had around 300 receiving. I believe Jones will be a factor more so in the passing game next season.
Perhaps the most shocking and huge transfer is former Oregon running back Travis Dye. Dye was ranked second in the Pac 12 in rush yards with 1,271 and second in touchdowns with 16. He was ranked first in all-purpose yards with 1,673. Dye isn’t the biggest back in the world, standing at 5’9 and 190 pounds but he offers a lot on the ground and through the air. It seems as if the versatility at the running back position is important to Riley and this offensive staff.
With Riley as the new offensive play-caller it’s unclear how much they will truly run the ball. However, the offense Riley runs is different. Rather than your traditional throw it 50 times a game scheme it’s more about tempo. Riley runs a lot of run-pass-option and play-action passing off of the rushing attack. No matter the pass to run split I trust coach Riley to put his players in the best position, and it seems he has a much deeper stable group of backs now than he did one month ago.