June 24, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Former USC running back Markese Stepp headed to Nebraska

The running back who seemed destined to take the reins of USC’s backfield is instead headed to Nebraska.

Two weeks after entering the NCAA transfer portal, Markese Stepp announced on social media Tuesday that he’s committed to join the Cornhuskers.

USC coach Clay Helton suggested last week that the door was still open for the power back to return to the Trojans. But after USC’s rushing attack diminished and Stepp’s role disappeared with it, the redshirt sophomore is opting for a new start in Nebraska, where his bruising rushing style could prove to be more of a natural fit.

Stepp appeared set to ascend to the top of USC’s backfield this season, but a confluence of injuries and offensive issues slowed that progress during his third season in Los Angeles. The Indianapolis native still paced the Trojans backfield with 13 carries in the team’s Pac-12 title game loss to Oregon. But through the three weeks prior, he received just six total carries.

It was during that stretch that USC’s run game came completely unraveled. Over the final four games, USC never managed more than three yards per carry on the ground. Against Washington State, it tallied just five rushing yards. And against Oregon, in Stepp’s final game in a USC uniform, it wasn’t much better, scrounging together 38 yards on 28 carries.

After Helton said the run game was “a primary focus” ahead of the season, USC finished 120th nationally in rushing, its worst season on the ground since he took over as coach. Stepp finished with just 165 yards from 45 carries — 30% of which came from on one run, a 49-yard sprint against Arizona.

Injuries also played a part in Stepp’s diminished role, as he entered the fall still dealing with an injured ankle from the previous season. A turf toe injury in training camp slowed Stepp’s progress further, and a strained pectoral sidelined him again after he led USC in carries over the first two games.

While his redshirt sophomore season was far from effective, Stepp’s exit leaves a reeling USC run game in uncertain territory. Helton said last week that seniors Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr “have given no hint of not coming back” and using the additional season of eligibility afforded to them by the NCAA. Beyond those two, speedy sophomore Kenan Christon will be entering his third season, while four-star freshman Brandon Campbell will also join the fray.

“I feel like it’ll be very strong going into next season,” Helton said of USC’s backfield.