clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

ASU Football Position Group Preview: Running Backs

Might be the best group in the country

Zac BonDurant

In Greek mythology, Cerberus was the name of the nightmarish three-headed dog that guarded the gates of the underworld.

In 2021, running backs coach Shaun Aguano seems to have his own Cerberus with a three-headed collection of DeaMonte Trayanum, Rachaad White, and Daniyel Ngata, which will bring nightmares for opposing defenses.

A Breakout 2020 and A Projected Breakout 2021

It is Ngata who is expected to make the jump this season after he was somewhat overshadowed by the breakout campaigns of White and Trayanum.

Last season, White rushed for 420 yards on 42 attempts. His average yards per carry of 10.0 was the best in the nation among running backs with over 40 attempts. He scored six total touchdowns, five on the ground and one through the air.

Trayanum carried the ball seven more times than White, but for 130 fewer yards. Despite his overall stats not measuring up to his backfield companion, Trayanum was the higher rated of the pair by Pro Football Focus (87.6), and the highest rated in the Pac-12.

Ngata was the highest-rated recruit of the three, but a hamstring injury that began bothering him during spring practice slowed his acclimation into the Sun Devil offense. A healthier Ngata in 2021 will likely find the role in the rushing attack he struggled to find in 2020, and he is primed for a breakout season.

A Balanced Attack Where Running Backs Flourish

When Herm Edwards assumed the head coaching role at Arizona State ahead of the 2018 season, a return to a balanced offensive approach that featured a healthy battering of the Sun Devil running game was expected.

Three years into the Edwards’ era, those expectations have been met, and perhaps exceeded. First it was Eno Benjamin, who blossomed in the new system with consecutive seasons of over 1,000 yards rushing and 10 or more touchdowns in 2018 and 2019 before he was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

Now, it is the aforementioned duo of Trayanum and White who have shown their prowess under the same philosophy, and Ngata is expected to join them this year.

In 2020, the Sun Devil rushing attack led the Pac-12 and was seventh nationally in average yards per game (264.2), and with an inexperienced receiving core being broken in by junior quarterback Jayden Daniels, that spells more opportunity for the Sun Devil rushing core to get theirs.

Not Going Down Easy

These guys are tough to tackle. Last year, White and Trayanum combined for an impressive seven yards for loss. PFF gave them a 0.0 stuff rate and the title as the only two Pac-12 rushers to have achieved that number.

Of the pair, White is the more shifty, Alvin Kamara-style running back. 58 percent of his rushing yards last season came before contact, and his average yards per carry before contact (5.8) was the best in college football.

Not to be outdone, Trayanum averaged either a first down or a touchdown on 36.7 percent of his carries, also best in the Pac-12 and just ahead of White (35.7).

Dynamic Threats

The rushing dominance of White in 2020 overshadowed his competence as a pass catcher out of the backfield.

White had eight passes thrown to him last season, and caught all eight. Ever dangerous in space, White took those eight receptions and turned them into 151 yards and a touchdown.

Both Trayanum and Ngata have expressed their desire to expand their receiving capabilities in 2021 as well, and have spoken during fall camp about their training during the offseason focusing on drills that will help them achieve that goal.


The nation saw very little of the electric Sun Devil running backs in 2020 thanks to a first delayed, then abbreviated, and often interrupted schedule. But with Arizona State ranked inside the top 25 to start the season and projected as contenders to win the Pac-12, their names could be very well be known in the households of college football fans throughout the nation by season’s end.

Read more positional groups previews:

Wide Receivers

Tight Ends