Utah finds a winning identity with Booker's running ability

It’s going to be a showcase of two of the top running backs in the Pac-12 on Saturday with Javorius Allen of the Trojans and Devontae Booker from Utah.

Allen leads the conference with 909 rushing yards. Booker is third with 742. Allen averages 6.1 yards per carry with eight touchdowns, Booker averages 6.2 yards per carry with seven touchdowns. Both have rushed for more than 200 yards in a game this season, and both will be facing defenses that have done a good job of stopping the run.

“Just about every game comes down to stopping the run and being able to run,” Utah coach Kyle Wittingham said. “We’ve got two teams in this game who are doing a nice job in both areas.”

Allen has been the showcase back for the Trojans the entire season after being named the team MVP in 2013, and his all-purpose production so far this year has him receiving some buzz in consideration to be a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.

Booker, on the other hand, wasn’t the starter for Utah this year as a junior college transfer, and he had only 31 carries in the first three games. That has changed in recent weeks as he has 89 carries in the last three games alone, averaging 187.7 yards per game in that span, a total no doubt helped by his 229-yard, three-touchdown performance last week in a double-overtime victoryt over Oregon State.

“Booker is really good,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. “He’s hard-nosed; boy, he competes like crazy.”

The emergence of Booker as a physical running threat has added a different dimension to the Utah offense and Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian says it is one that seems to work well. Despite the fact that the Utes (5-1 overall, 2-1 conference) are ranked last in the conference in passing yards per game, they are ranked No. 19 in the country, are a point away from being unbeaten and have road wins over UCLA and Michigan.

“The biggest different from years past is that they’ve found an identity running the football,” Sarkisian said. “They’ve gone from a spread fly look to a downhill running team and I think it fits Kyle’s personality; it’s certainly been successful for them.

“We’ve been able to stop the run pretty well since the BC game. We’re defeating one-on-one blocks and we’re more sound in our gap integrity, our guys are more familiar with our scheme and we have more depth. That will definitely be a matchup to watch in this game.”

After giving up 452 rushing yards in the loss to Boston College, the Trojans went three games in a row without giving up 100 yards on the ground. That streak ended last week against Colorado but USC, still only gave up 3.7 yards per attempt on 46 rushes. The overall play of the D-line should benefit even more with the ability of Greg Townsend Jr. and Cody Temple to play an increased number of snaps, something that couldn't to happen earlier in the season when both were battling injuries, and that will help reduce the number of reps for Leonard Williams and others.

“It’s a huge advantage to have a quality two-deep, to not have a real drop-off,” USC defensive line coach Chris Wilson said. “It’s nothing magical; it’s a case of some guys getting healthy and performing well when they get their chance. It should really benefit us late in the game because we have to be prepared to tackle this guy (Booker) on every snap, he really complements what they do with their physical offensive line. As a defensive lineman, this is the kind of game you play for.”

For fans of good running back play, this is the kind of game you watch for.