In our last Spring Ball Report, we talked about some of the key areas that the Offensive Line could afford to get a leg up on improving before the fall rolls around. Now it’s time to look at another area where the Trojans could use some extra help: The Running Game.
We touched on it briefly when talking about the offensive line, but USC’s running game last year was a roller coaster of success. Twists, turns, loops, and dramatic drops riddled the first half of the season but from the game against Notre Dame onward, the Trojans just kept on climbing up and up and up. Many had assumed that Marc Tyler would be the face of USC’s ground game, but aside from one or two standout performances, that never really came to fruition. Lurking in the shadows though, biding his time and waiting for the right moment to surprise Trojan Nation, was Curtis McNeal.
McNeal’s breakout season has been well-documented at Reign of Troy, but in case you forgot, let’s look at his numbers one more time: McNeal had 145 carries for 1005 yards and six touchdowns. And for the record, that is an INCREDIBLE amount of yards for that few carries. According to ESPN, Only one other player in the NCAA (Missouri’s Henry Josey) reached even 900 yards with that few carries. His biggest game—and most pivotal—was against Stanford, where he exploded for 145 yards and was one of the reasons that USC stayed in the game with the Cardinal through three overtimes. He proved to be a forced of destruction, bowling through defenders for the extra yards, and almost averaging a first down per carry.
So obviously, we know who USC’s every-down back is going to be in 2012. What we don’t know is who is going to back him up.
Currently, redshirt sophomore D.J. Morgan has the nod to be No. 2 behind McNeal, but he has been shaky at best thus far. He fumbled a few times in games last season, and if there is anything Coach Kiffin won’t stand for, it’s not taking care of the ball. Morgan is going to have to get better at ball security, because if USC goes on to dominate the way it is predicted to, Morgan could be seeing a good amount of field time. To his credit, Morgan is very quick and agile where McNeal is stocky and solid; when he gets into space, it could easily mean lights out for an opponent. He just has to work on getting the ball safely through traffic, first.
Even with these two though, USC is kind of in a sticky situation at the running back position. With the dismissal of Dillon Baxter and Amir Carlisle’s transfer from the program, the Trojans are very thin at this position, and the running game will live or die by McNeal’s ability to stay healthy. There is not a clear-cut third running back yet; it could be Buck Allen (the only other scholarship running back that the Trojans have), or it could be Tre Madden, who recently was moved down from linebacker. The Trojans will want to get the running back corps figured out as soon as possible so that they can start working on employing the backs in a way that would most exploit their differing strengths.
USC has some time to figure it out but the sooner they do it, the better. As we saw last season, a balanced offensive scheme is what allowed the Trojans to excel in the manner that they did, and it stands to reason that replicating that scheme would bode well for Trojan Nation.
Next, we will turn our attention to the other side of the ball, and check out the USC secondary.