football Edit

Travis Dye, Austin Jones see payoff for belief in Lincoln Riley's offense

USC running back Travis Dye scores on a 25-yard touchdown Saturday night vs. Fresno State.
USC running back Travis Dye scores on a 25-yard touchdown Saturday night vs. Fresno State. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Images)

How did Lincoln Riley convince two established Pac-12 starting running backs to both transfer to USC during the same week this offseason?

With some very compelling past examples of how he thought Travis Dye and Austin Jones could both thrive equally in his offense.

"Coming to this offense, you get to show your skills in a lot of different ways -- catching the ball out of the backfield, running the ball and also having good pass protections as well. But what a lot of people don't know is Lincoln also had Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon on the same team and they both had 1,000 yards," Jones said.

That was in 2016, Riley's second year as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. That's one example and there are others -- QB Kyler Murray and RB Kennedy Brooks each rushed for 1,000 yards with the Sooners in 2018 and Brooks and QB Jalen Hurts did it in 2019.

That was emphasized in the recruiting conversation after Jones hit the transfer portal following three years at Stanford, he said.

"Oh, absolutely. He said the way you win games is with a strong run game. We're just not going to [be] a one-dimensional offense, and as you can see tonight we put that on display," Jones said after USC's 45-17 win over Fresno State.

On Saturday night, it was Jones rumbling for 110 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries and Dye picking up 102 yards and a TD on 10 carries, marking the first time since 2018 that USC had two 100-yard rushers in the same game (Aca'Cedric Ware and Vavae Malepeai).

Jones had piled up 1,686 combined rushing and receiving yards during his time at Stanford, while Dye compiled 3,715 over four years at Oregon.

Now they form the incredibly efficient 1-2 punch for the No. 7-ranked Trojans.

There were different motivations for each, of course. Jones spent last season struggling within one of the worst collective rushing attacks in college football, routinely facing eight defenders in the box. Dye got engaged in December and wanted to move back closer to he and his fiance's family here in Southern California.

But both have also talked about their conversations with Riley and buying into the vision of what he wanted to build at USC -- a vision that has already come into clear focus just three games into the season.

Overall so far, Jones is averaging a robust 8.2 yards per carry with 197 rushing yards and 3 TDs (plus 68 receiving yards), which is nearly double his 4.2 career YPC at Stanford, and Dye is averaging 7.6 YPC with a team-high 227 rushing yards and 2 TDs (plus 76 receiving yards).

"I think it's everything -- the scheme, great blocking from the offensive line and trusting the scheme, just continuing to put ourselves in positions to make plays," Jones said. "Coach Mac [RBs coach Kiel McDonald] all week he told us we had to work harder, come out of more tackles, to be more explosive runners."

Dye was asked if this is what he expected coming into USC ...

"100 percent. 100 percent. I know we both have the capability of doing it," he said after his second straight 100-yard rushing performance Saturday night. "He's a great back, I like to think of myself as a great back and it doesn't mean that we have to be competitors or hate each other because we're good backs. No, we can feed off each other, we can bounce ideas. If he does good it just [gives me] an incentive to do better too. So I see it as a great relationship."

So does Riley, of course.

For as much as people like to link him to his first boss Mike Leach and his pass-heavy Air Raid attack, Riley has been unequivocal since arriving at USC that he is very proud of the rushing offenses he's produced over the years.

Add this one to the list.

"I thought the run game was really pretty good most of the night. We were steady. I thought the line was really good in the run game. Those guys started seeing it pretty well," Riley said. "We had some big ones that were really, really close -- I think the shoestring one that Travis almost came out of it would have went a long, long way. So yeah, it's important, you've got to run the ball to win and win consistently, win different ways. So, proud of the way we ran the ball."

Jones managed a 44-yard run while Dye delivered the highlight of the night, escaping four or five attempted tackles (including two at once, depending on how one counts it) while churning and spinning his way for a 25-yard touchdown.

"I just got to keep the legs moving, keep pushing and don't take no as an answer," Dye said.

Perhaps that was the same mentality Riley employed when going about rebuilding USC's backfield in the offseason -- or maybe the pitch was just too compelling to pass up.

Either way, it's working out ideally so far for all involved.