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Trojans Run-First Mentality Keeps Everyone Involved

Wanna make your life easier, keep running the football with success.

Plenty of tailbacks could reach the end zone this season.
Plenty of tailbacks could reach the end zone this season.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

New USC head coach Steve Sarkisian has not been shy about implementing his own system and that sheer moxie has directly translated to the players on the field, particularly for the tailbacks. They are making things happen with the ball in their hands in and around the backfield.

USC wants to run the football this season, and they are perfectly fine with letting opposing teams in on that not-so-hidden fact.

The Trojans averaged 38 carries last season, which was way up from the mere 30 attempts in 2012 when Matt Barkley was under center, but an increased production carrying the rock has already seen widespread benefits over the last two weeks of training camp.

While the Trojans won't load the line of scrimmage with offensive lineman like their nerdy rivals up in Palo Alto, being able to run the football successfully -- and in this case diversely -- still is imperative because it can translate into something perfectly designed for this program.

"We love to run the football," Sarkisian said earlier this month. "I love running the ball. I think running the ball sets up so many things for us in the passing game."

Powered by a steady center Max Tuerk, who has moved over to take the place of NFL draftee Marcus Martin, two physical tackles in Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler and an emerging freshman guard in Toa Lobendahn on the left side of the line; coach Drevno has some hogs ready to lead the charge.

And USC has talented tailbacks (not to mention an impressive combination of fullbacks that can both catch and carry the rock in a variety of ways) that are ready to shoulder the load.

During Monday night's scrimmage, the Trojans evolved that run-first mantra into an effective measure. After setting the defense up by pounding the rock over the course of an entire first-team drive, the starters' second drive got going when Cody Kessler connected over the top of the linebackers to Randall Telfer on a solid 40-yard pitch and catch all set up by the use of play-action.

"We're a run-first team, which should, in turn, create one-on-one matchups on the outside with our wide receivers and tight ends," Sarkisian said.

Starting with do-it-all Buck Allen in the backfield, USC has the personnel to carry the load. Tre Madden put together an impressive start to last season, and only seems tougher and more battled tested carrying the rock in camp.

Justin Davis arguably could be the difference maker because of how explosive he is with the football locked squarely between his numbers. And let's not forget the designed end-arounds for speedsters Nelson Agholor, Adoree' JacksonAjene Harris, George Farmer (who previously spent time at running back as a freshman) and designed outside tosses for 260-pound tank Soma Vainuku.

"And when we get those one-on-one matchups, we have to throw catchable balls. And we have to trust that our guys are going to make the plays," said Sarkisian, describing the resultant effect USC's running game can have on the passing game.

For some recent perspective, Washington ran fewer than 50 percent of the time only once in the past five years under coach Sarkisian.

Last season alone, running behind the heavy legs of talented tailback Bishop Sankey, the Huskies were second in the Pac-12 in rushing attempts just trailing Arizona's nearly one-dimensional Ka'Deem Carey attack.

Comparing the way Washington did and how USC will attack opposing defenses can be very circumstantial depending on each roster's individual strengths and weaknesses. Keep in mind some underlying similarities, though.

Given how USC's offense works best when operating like clockwork getting the ball out quickly with precise accuracy in tight windows, running the football (and the illusion of doing so) will make life so much easier for the slightly-depleted tight end group and injury prone wide receiving corps catching the football on the outside.

Enter the play-action passing game into the equation allowing Randall Telfer and freshman Bryce Dixon to have even more space to operate downfield. USC wants to dish the rock out like a point guard, and leader the Trojans' leader has no problem turning around to hand off the ball because it will only make his job easier.

"I like the running game" said quarterback Cody Kessler, while confidently adding, "It's going to be a big part of this offense during the year."