Based on pre-season attention, USC may not have one of the top four running backs in the Pac-10 heading into 2009. After all, other conference headliners like Best, Rodgers, Gerhart, and Blount have garnered most of the accolades from last season, and deservedly so. But a strong case could be made that the Trojans feature up to five of the top 10 tailbacks in the conference; the talent in the SC backfield is that good. In fact, this may be the deepest group of runners in the country.
Last season, the Trojans did not produce a 1,000-yard rusher and still managed to finish with the 3rd most rushing yards in the Pac-10. The unit has everything a coach could ask for – speed, power, quickness, experience, youthfulness, explosion and perhaps most importantly; confidence. So how will Pete Carroll and Co. manage all of the talent? It won’t be easy, but most coaching staffs would love to have the same problem.
The closest thing the Trojans have to a feature back is senior Stafon Johnson. Johnson led the Trojans in rushing last season with 705 yards and nine touchdowns on 138 carries (5.1 YPC). For his career, he has amassed 1,395 yards and 14 touchdowns. Johnson also led SC’s punt return unit, fielding 33 punts for 305 yards (9.2 yards per return).
At 5-11 210 pounds, Johnson runs with a balanced mix of speed and power, but it is his vision that separates him from the rest of the crowded SC backfield. He is an intuitive runner who has an exceptional feel for the game. Johnson enters his final year having never rushed for 1,000 yards in a season, but likely would have done so at almost any other program in the country where the carries were easier to come by.