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Keaontay Ingram proving he's USC's best running back since RoJo

USC running back Keaontay Ingram rushed for a career-high 204 yards last weekend vs. Arizona.
USC running back Keaontay Ingram rushed for a career-high 204 yards last weekend vs. Arizona. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Images)

Keaontay Ingram arrived in Los Angeles earlier this year having already accomplished a lot in his college football career.

He'd already piled up over 2,300 combined rushing and receiving yards and 17 touchdowns over three seasons at Texas. He'd played the starring role in big wins before some 90,000 fans for the Longhorns.

But there was something he still wanted, or needed, to prove in transferring to USC -- unfinished business that motivated his move.

"That I can be a No. 1 back. That's all I wanted to prove since I've been in college," Ingram said this week. "And I'm getting that opportunity so I'm taking full advantage of it."

Full advantage.

Ingram's 204 rushing yards Saturday vs. Arizona -- on 7.6 yards per carry -- were not only a career-high but the most for any USC running back since Aca'Cedric Ware's 205 vs. Oregon State in 2018.

But the latter note was also true for his 138 rushing yards the previous week at Notre Dame, which speaks to the state of the running back position here prior to Ingram's mid-season emergence.

Now that he's finally getting a full workload, it's becoming more indisputable with each passing week that Ingram is the best Trojans running back since Ronald Jones II ran wild from 2015-17.

Indisputable even for a coaching staff that has seemed intent on not leaning heavily on any one back the last three years -- until now.

"He's one of the better football players on this team, probably in this league if not in the whole country with the ball in his hand," offensive coordinator Graham Harrell acknowledged this week. "So whether it be in the run game or the pass game or whatever the case may be, getting him touches is going to be important for us."

RELATED: RBs coach Mike Jinks breaks down Keaontay Ingram's mid-season breakout

Ware's 825 rushing yards in 2018 stand as the highest single-season total for a Trojan since Jones was the program's last 1,000-yard back (topping out at 1,550 in 2017), and Ingram (761 so far) should be the next to hit that marker. He's piled up 615 rushing yards over the last five games alone, and extrapolating that 123-yards-per-game average over the final four contests would put him at 1,253 for the season (not counting a potential bowl game).

If Ingram were to maintain that pace, he'd also go over 3,000 rushing yards for his collegiate career, which punctuated by this late flurry should make him a viable NFL draft prospect.

If only the Trojans had been willing to make Ingram a true workhorse, bell cow back earlier in the season rather than feeling beholden to a 1A/1B plan in the backfield ....

Alas, it doesn't seem like Ingram spends much time dwelling on such things, and there are plenty of what-ifs if he wanted to wallow.

Such as averaging just 12.3 carries (and never getting more than 15) over the first six games before carrying the ball 24 and 27 times the last two games and averaging a combined 6.7 yards per carry despite that heavy workload.


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