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The USC Running Game

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Just a couple of quick notes...

Two Saturday's ago the prevailing thought was that the running game was dead in the water.

With the loss of Joe McKnight and Stafon Johnson to the NFL the question has been who would step up? When Lane Kiffin arrived he said everyone would get a clean slate to show him what they got. As I noted a couple a weeks ago I thought it was good that everyone was going to get a shot...something I thought was lacking in the last season of Pete Carroll's era at USC.

I know there are some who disagree with that last sentence...but it is what it is.

So, Kiffin rotated everyone but the running game just didn't come together two weeks ago...

Things were so bad that last week's Internet sensation, freshman Dillon Baxter, gained only 15 yards in 11 carries. A week ago, he gained 94 yards and broke a 50-yard touchdown run. Bradford finished with 45 yards in seven carries.

"We've got to learn to run," Kiffin said. "We need to do what we need to do to be a championship running team. We didn't run up very well. Our tight ends have to block better."

If the Trojans were unable to run, they could at least pass as quarterback Matt Barkley threw five touchdown passes and passed for 291 yards. But some of those stats were against the second-team defense, which Kiffin praised.

We were all wowed by Dillon Baxter's run, but it was against the 2nd and 3rd team defense. There is no question he has some moves but the question is how will he do against the first team?

Part of the reason for the sub-par performance was that the O line only had six healthy players available and they were going against the first team defense that looks to have one of the best defensive lines in the nation.

But last week the running game answered back...

After Lane Kiffin called out the running game last week, the offensive line and running backs responded with an improved effort. Allen Bradford busted a pair of long touchdown runs (39 and 35 yards) and finished with 89 yards on 10 carries. Curtis McNeal had 50 yards on 14 carries, including some tough inside runs.

And then this past Saturday they played a much more consistent.

A week after Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said “we don’t have a clue right now about what we need to do to be a championship running team,” the offense responded in the team’s third spring scrimmage. Four tailbacks combined for 168 yards on 34 carries for a 4.9-yard average, up from last week’s 3.4.

“We’re not at a championship level yet,” Kiffin said, “but we definitely improved.”

Senior Allen Bradford led the charge with 89 yards on 10 carries, including touchdown runs of 39 and 35 yards. Bradford displayed power on the first touchdown by breaking at least two tackles and breakaway speed on the second by outrunning the secondary.

Most important to Kiffin, though, was that Bradford ran with better discipline.

“He doesn’t want me to look for the cutback,” Bradford said. “He wants me to play assignment football … once I put my foot in the ground, make a decision. He doesn’t want me stopping my feet. That gets you nowhere.”

Bradford praised the performance of the offensive line, which again was shorthanded.

So, all is not lost...

It is still early...this is only spring ball and nothing is set in stone. It may be a little disconcerting to read about how the running game has struggled but the offense is not even close to 100%.

Here is a little bit on Curtis McNeil.

Running back Curtis McNeal has been somewhat lost in the shuffle at running back this spring, but, given an opportunity in Saturday's scrimmage, the redshirt sophomore succeeded, carrying the ball 14 times for 50 yards.

Coach Lane Kiffin often called on McNeal to run through the middle, and the human bowling ball used his compact 5-foot-8, 190-pound frame to stay low to the ground and avoid potential tacklers. McNeal performed well in limited stints last season — averaging 5.5 yards per carry on the season — but is hoping to earn a larger role under the new coaching staff .

I expect some big things from him as well...

We will see a lot of different packages that utilize the best of what each back has to offer. Whether it is D-Bax, CJ, Tyler (if he can stay healthy), McNeil or Bradford everyone will get their shot to step up. There is still a long way to go yet but I think there will be some great things that we will see once training camp gets underway.