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USC Football Position Preview: Running Backs

What role will the running back position have in Graham Harrell’s offense?

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The running game has been a vital part of the USC offense for the last few seasons. Last season the offense has experienced some historic lows that contributed to a 5-7 season. The running game was ranked one of the worst in the Pac-12 with 133.5 yards per game and 17 total touchdowns. USC was also without a 1,000 yard back with senior Aca’Cedric Ware leading the team in rushing with 825. New Trojans offensive coordinator Graham Harrell brings in the air raid offense which focuses on the passing game. With the attention on the wide receivers and quarterback, what roll will the running backs have in the offense? We know Harrell will feature the run game in his offense with the talent at running back.

Starter

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 24 Notre Dame at USC Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Junior Vavae Malepeai- USC won’t have a true starter in the backfield due to them rotating in and out. Fall camp will feature a position battle between Stephen Carr, Vavae Malepeai, and Markese Stepp. Come week 1 it’ll be Malepeai that’ll get the nod to start. The junior has been consistent carrying the ball during the spring and has seen a good chunk of first team reps. Last season as a Sophomore, Malepeai rushed for 501 yards and 8 touchdowns on 93 carries. In the passing game he had 15 receptions for 88 yards and averaged 5.6 yards per reception.

Backups

USC Spring Football Practice Begins Photo by Scott Varley/MediaNews Group/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images

As mentioned, expect USC to go with a three man rotation at running back early on. The amount of talent at running back will help bolster the run game and the offense. Junior Stephen Carr brings speed and explosiveness to the position. The last two seasons Carr has shown glimpse and flashes of what he is capable of doing, however injuries has limited him through that time. The big question for the junior running back is his health. If Carr can stay healthy then he can play a huge part in the Trojans offense in both the run and pass game.

Redshirt freshman Markese Stepp will also be a key factor in the running game. At 6’0, 230 pounds, Stepp, like Malepeai, will bring a physical style to the Trojans backfield. Last season Stepp showed only a sample size of what he could do due to being redshirted his freshman season. He was able to keep his redshirt status while playing in two games. Against Notre Dame, Stepp had 5 carries for 23 yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry. During spring camp, the redshirt freshman was by far the best running back out there and likely played his way into seeing a lot of carries this coming season.

USC only brought in only one running back to the 2019 recruiting in Kenan Christon. The three-star running back out of San Diego, California could find a spot in the running back rotation come fall camp. Christon will also add another speed threat to the backfield. The freshman was named California track athlete of the year back in June.

Player to Watch

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 24 Notre Dame at USC Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The redshirt freshman Markese Stepp will be the player to watch at running back. During Spring camp Stepp was by far the best and most consistent running back for USC. The redshirt freshman could become another X-Factor for offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s offense with his physical style of play and speed.