Without veteran running back Eno Benjamin in the backfield going into the 2020 season, many questions were asked about what the Arizona State rushing attack would look like with three newcomers in the fold.
There were also new players on the offensive line, and the Sun Devils would be relying on the play of three backs who had never taken a snap in Division I college football prior to their season opener in October against USC.
However, with his three-headed monster in the backfield, running backs coach Shaun Aguano helped silence those doubts quickly.
Although it was a small sample size with just four games played, ASU led the conference averaging 264.3 rushing yards per game, including three contests with over 250-plus on the ground.
It was undoubtedly the offense’s biggest strength, and the backfield of DeaMonte “Chip” Trayanum, Rachaad White and Daniyel Ngata gashed opposing defenses. Aguano recently joined the Brad Cesmat Show to discuss his thoughts on his backs after their first year in Tempe.
“I was nervous to tell you the truth, especially against the opponent in our first game against USC. We wanted to see the youngness of this group and how they would perform, and they did incredibly well,” Aguano said. “…I knew the competition level wouldn’t faze them as much, and I thought the fastness of the game would hamper them a little bit, but they came out and exploded on the scene.”
All three backs had a different blend of running, with Trayanum being a heavy back that could run defenders over, while White’s vision and quickness left defenders in the dust on multiple occassions.
Additionally, Ngata came on later in the season, showcasing his quickness and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
The trio accounted for 10 Sun Devil touchdowns. White led the way with 420 yards and averaged an astounding 10 yards per carry, while Trayanum had 290 yards in four games, and Ngata had 108 yards on 26 rushing attempts.
PFF’s Top Returning PAC-12 RB’s:
1. Chip Trayanum (ASU)
2. Rachaad White (ASU)
3. Brittain Brown (UCLA)
4. Travis Dye (Ore)
5. Jarek Broussard (CU)
— WestCoastCFB (@WestCoastCFB) January 28, 2021
The talent was evident, but now Aguano wants his group to take the next step this offseason, both in their preparation and as students of the game.
“We just had our evaluations and I need them to improve on their professionalism and preparing, not only on the field, but in the weight room especially from a physical standpoint, and then dig deep into the playbook and conceptually understand the why’s of the game,” Aguano said. “Take notes like it was your first day in class…It’s going back to the baseline and making sure we aren’t complacent and taking it at a professional level everyday.”
What’s scary is the ASU backfield and offense might be only scratching the surface, too. With a rushed fall camp due to the pandemic and first-year offensive coordinator Zak Hill working with a new running back and wide receiver core, the playbook didn’t get completely opened.
Aguano said that about “30 percent” of the offensive installations were used, and there’s more to come. The running back room will look to grow on the solid foundation that they built in 2020.
“We just went through the installs and Zak does a great job of making sure that we execute what we have,” Aguano said of the offense. “It’s not how much we have in, as much as it’s when we do have a certain amount of installs, that we execute at a high level and pay attention to details. I know Coach Hill acknowledges that with the group and that’s kind of where we are at with paying attention to details and being disciplined in what we do.”