Utah State Football: Running Backs Preview
Can Gerold Bright be the guy to run the ball?
Aggies will be just as talented as last season with this group
Despite losing junior Darwin Thompson to the NFL Draft, Utah State doesn’t have question marks at running back this year. This is great news for a team that has a new coaching staff and offensive line to build around. If this team’s rushing attack can come close to matching last year’s numbers, any growing pains on the offensive side of the ball should largely be minimized.
Darwin Thompson had a terrific 2018 season, amassing 1,044 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on just 153 carries. Effective in the screen-passing game, he often leapfrogged opposing defenders for some extremely memorable plays. Though Thompson left school early to get drafted in the sixth round by the Kansas City Chiefs, the cupboard is anything but bare for USU. Senior Gerold Bright (5’10’ 190) returns to spearhead a rushing attack that could be just as effective as before.
Splitting carries last year with Thompson, Bright was no slouch in the backfield. He gained a robust 888 yards and ten touchdowns on 141 carries. Though his stats aren’t quite as impressive as Thompson’s, Bright has the same propensity for physical play that Thompson had. It takes multiple tacklers to bring Bright down and he was rarely tackled for a loss. According to Phil Steele’s football guide, he only lost 13 yards all season compared to Thompson’s 60 yards.
On top of his ability to run effectively, Bright previously played wide receiver for the Aggies in 2016 and most of 2017, before he changed positions to running back. This makes him a complete running back and will help ensure opposing teams don’t simply stack the box. Bright received 22 passes for 232 yards last season, so he can be moved to different spots of the field to add another dimension to the offense.
Newcomers and Familiar Faces
Bright will assume the role Thompson had last season and benefit the same way as well. Much like it was last season, Aggies have a highly touted incoming JUCO transfer to balance the rushing attack and ensure depth remains strong at the position.
Jaylen Warren (5’8″ 225) enters USU as a junior with two years to play. He started his collegiate career at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah. While there, he turned heads and went on to become the NJCAA offensive player of the year in 2018. He played in nine games and gained 1,435 yards and 15 touchdowns on 167 rushes, which amounted to a gaudy 8.6 yards per carry. Needless to say, he’s well prepared to back up Bright with his bigger frame.
Junior Morian Walker (6’1″ 215) should be ready for increased playing time this year. Though injured in 2017, he did appear in 11 games last season gaining a modest 63 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. There’s no question he has the physical tools to succeed, but he needs to remain healthy in order to contribute more.
Grad transfer Riley Burt (6’1″ 210) could find his way into the rotation as well. Coming from BYU, Burt didn’t play in many games during his three-year stay. However, he did put up respectable numbers when he had his opportunities. His best performance came last season as he rushed for 110 yards and a score on just 13 carries against Western Michigan in the Potato Bowl.
He was able to get the quality playing time late in the year since BYU had injuries on their roster, most notably to Squally Canada and Matt Hadley. If any of USU’s starters go out due to injury, Burt can potentially fill in their spot with little performance drop off.
Rounding out this position group are backs Chase Nelson (5’10” 200), Enoch Nawahine (5’11” 185), Sione Fehoko (5’7″ 190), and Parker McCary (5’10” 190). With the exception of Nelson, all these backs are underclassmen.
McCary and Fehoko redshirted in 2018. Nelson has switched positions from the defensive side of the ball, so it remains to be seen how much he’ll contribute as a running back this season. Nawahine will soon begin his freshman season and will most likely redshirt.
There is no question the Aggies have a lot of talent to choose from in this group. Bright and Warren will receive the bulk of the carries since they’ve already proven their production.
However, Walker and Burt will have some meaningful opportunities to contribute as well. If this unit on the team can stay healthy, they should have a good shot at putting up comparable rushing numbers to last season.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t add a caveat about this group, though. Much like the 2014 season, the Aggies lost multiple starters on the offensive line and only returned their left tackle in Kevin Whimpey.
Much like 2014, Alfred Edwards is the only returning starter at left tackle this year. It will be absolutely necessary for the offensive line to gel as quickly as possible to allow the running backs to maximize their talent.
If everything clicks, running back could be one of the stronger position groups for the Aggies. If there are no injuries, I’m expecting another wholly productive year.