It has been quite a while since the USC Trojans last rolled out a well-rounded offense.
Just last season, USC relied upon two quarterbacks, and neither passer was able to formulate much of a free-flowing offense. USC wound up ranking at fifth in the Pac-12 in points per game with a 28.7 average, which was below its previous campaign (33.3).
Now, USC is set to feature a revamped offensive group from top to bottom. From quarterback Caleb Williams anchoring the passing game to the likes of Mario Williams and Jordan Addison being the top two wideout options, the expectations are sky-high for USC to regularly have its way in the first year of the Lincoln Riley era.
For USC to meet such expectations in the coming campaign, it will not come down to Addison or any other wide receiver to emerge as an X-factor. Instead, the Trojans must hope that this running back makes the most out of his debut year in the program.
USC football: Trojans' biggest X-factor in 2022 season
One of the more under-the-radar transfer portal moves of this year centered on Travis Dye’s call to leave Oregon for USC. Over his four total years at Oregon, Dye was a reliable backup running back in the program, as he recorded 29 total touchdowns and also tallied 800-plus yards from scrimmage in three of those such years. In his final season with the Ducks, Dye blossomed as their go-to option at the position following CJ Verdell’s season-ending leg injury, as he posted career highs in multiple stats, including in yards from scrimmage (1,673).
While Dye's move to USC did not gain much national attention, Trojans running backs coach Kiel McDonald sees that it was crucial for the program to bring in a talent who has given headaches to defensive coordinators across the conference.
“To get a guy that has produced in your conference, that you’ve gotten a chance to see year-in and year-out… it’s huge,” McDonald said earlier this month. “I got a chance to go up against Oregon twice last year [at Utah]. He was [playing] against one of the best defenses in the country, and to see him compete, strain, and fight against a unit like that showed me everything I needed to know.”
It is still up in the air as to just how many rush attempts Dye will receive in his first season at USC, as Riley and offensive coordinator Josh Henson are set to also have former Stanford running back Austin Jones and Darwin Barlow as options at the position. At the least, Dye can add another dimension to the Williams-led offense as a pass-catcher.
Dye showcased his ability to be a quality receiver out of the backfield in his last campaign at Oregon, as he notched career highs in both receptions (46) and receiving yards (402). Whether in out routes or in screen passes, he proved to be a player over the year who opposing linebackers and cornerbacks needed to continually keep an eye.
Overall, Riley was not as much dependent on running backs to be involved in the passing attack during his run at Oklahoma. But with now Dye in the fold at USC, he needs to change course and exploit the running back's potential as a receiver.
In the big picture, Dye will be featuring in an offense that boasts playmakers across the board, with multiple players capable of either tallying 100-plus rushing yards or 100-plus receiving yards on a game-by-game basis. As Riley touched on during his Pac-12 Media Day press conference, there is plenty of versatility within the offense.
“Yeah, I think we have some really intriguing skill sets,” Riley said. “I’m really excited about our backs, both Travis Dye and Austin Jones are proven guys at this level that are both really pros in the way they go about their business. They both have great experience. So really excited about those two.
“The receiving core obviously we’ve made a lot of additions and changes, too. I mean, so many of those guys, obviously Jordan [Addison] and Mario [Williams] have been talked about quite a bit and deservedly so. … We have some neat skill positions, have some guys that can stretch the field, make a lot of plays, give us some versatility. I think there will be a lot of competitions within our own locker room. It will be really interesting to see how we evolve as an offense.”
Dye and the rest of the Trojans’ promising offensive group will have a pivotal first chance to impress in their season opener against Rice next month.