The logjam at running back might be getting a little easier to sort out for running backs coach Mike Jinks. According to a report from 247 Sports’ USCFootball.com, USC running back Stephen Carr intends to enter the transfer portal.
While this move would very much clear up the running back picture, with Keaontay Ingram and Vavae Malepeai moving to Nos. 1 and 2, in whatever order, it’s a blow to the position group and the offense overall because Carr had a very good spring and seemed to be playing with the dynamic ability that made him one of the nation’s top high school recruits.
Carr showed flashes of brilliance as a true freshman, averaging 5.6 yards per carry on his way to 363 rushing yards and three touchdowns, in addition to 188 receiving yards. But injuries derailed his career and he’s dealt with foot, ankle, back and hamstring injuries that have limited him to appearing in no more than 10 games in any season and a high of 81 carries in the 2018 season.
He’s rushed for 1,319 yards and 12 touchdowns in four years, and caught 57 passes for 421 yards and a score. He was also in line to potentially be a primary kick returner this season.
USC is in pretty good shape at running back even if Carr does elect to transfer elsewhere. Ingram was terrific this spring after transferring from Texas and Malepeai has served as USC’s lead back for several years, despite battling injury issues of his own. The Trojans also have capable backups in Kenan Christon, who missed spring ball while participating in track, and true freshman Brandon Campbell, who was very impressive this spring and might be in line for some snaps with this Carr development and Campbell’s early showing.
Running backs coach Mike Jinks has spoken this offseason about wanting to find a lead back to be responsible for a majority of the carries and then a second back to support him. Trying to keep three or four backs happy with a sufficient number of carries was not something that would work and a decision was coming. Carr might have been able to play his way into one of those top two spots, but it was going to be difficult. Ingram came over from Texas with the intention to play a major role and he clearly brought things to the position in terms of strength, speed and agility that were not there. Safety Isaiah Pola-Mao singled out Ingram as one of the top offensive players he went up against this spring and said he brought something different than the other backs. After something of a slow start, Malepeai rounded into form by the end of spring and his ability as a runner, receiver and blocker makes him a good bet to see plenty of time this season.
The biggest question facing the USC offense and the running back position specifically is how effective that group is going to be in the offense this season. The Trojans ran for fewer than 100 yards per game and four yards per carry last season. Those numbers aren’t anywhere close to what they need to be in order to offer a potent offensive attack, no matter how good the passing game is.
Despite not rushing for more than 400 yards in any season, Carr’s ability and reputation will likely make him a fairly hot commodity as a transfer. He would be the the second USC running back to enter the transfer portal this offseason, joining Markese Stepp, who landed at Nebraska.