USC has its hands full with Utah RB Booker, resurgent Utes run game

USC has its hands full with Utah RB Booker, resurgent Utes run game

Published Oct. 22, 2014 9:56 p.m. ET

Utah running back Devontae Booker is averaging just under 124 yards per game on the ground this season. Booker is second in the Pac-12, trailing only USC's Buck Allen.

Booker is a prime example of the change in philosophy Utah has undergone in recent years.

"They're a physical, downhill running football team," USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said.

The USC head coach says this is a transition that's been in the works for a few years now under head coach Kyle Whittingham.


It seems like it wasn't that long ago when the Utes were on a national stage as a mid-major, taking down power conference teams, while running a variation of the spread.  

Remember Norm Chow? He's part of the change. After leaving UCLA and before getting the head-coaching gig at Hawaii, Chow returned to his alma mater in 2011, and brought a pro-style attack to Salt Lake City.

More recently, it was former Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson who held the position of co-offensive coordinator last season. This year, he's still on the staff as the running backs coach.  

Enter former Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen, who has done ever more tinkering in his first year as the Utes' offensive coordinator. Whittingham referred to Christensen as one of the "pioneers" of the spread offense.

Under Christensen, Booker is averaging 6.2 yards per rush, which is slightly better than Allen. If the name sounds familiar locally, it's because Booker was a part of the Sacramento Grant High School football team that came down to Carson and shocked the entire nation by defeating Long Beach Poly 25-20 in the Open Division Bowl game.

Booker ran for over 100 yards and a touchdown in one of the greatest upsets in California state title football history.

He's in his first season with the Utes after transferring from American River College in Sacramento, where he led the Utah rushing attack that Whittingham says has been "the difference offensively" for his team.

"He's a very physical runner," Sarkisian said. "I think he runs angry. I think that he almost appears to get stronger as the game goes on and as you start to arm tackle him that's when he starts breaking those arm tackles and creating big plays."

The Trojans have had their struggles stopping the run this season, but the squad has turned it around of late. That trend will have to continue this weekend in Salt Lake City.

"Guys are doing their job a lot better and I think we're playing with a better attitude," Sarkisian said. "We were feeling our way in a new scheme and a new system early on in the season and now our guys are playing with a lot more belief and they're playing with confidence."