With two Class of 2013 running backs on board for USC, Ty Isaac and Justin Davis, the Trojans may be once again be piecing together an iconic Thunder & Lightning backfield, a phenomenon that current running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu, knows quite well.
Polamalu was a leftover from Paul Hackett’s staff in 2000, and coached at USC under Pete Carroll from 2001 to 2003. The most notable aspect of Polamalu’s first coaching stint at Troy was the birth of the Thunder & Lighting backfield, as both LenDale White and Reggie Bush started as freshman on the 2003 AP National Championship team.
LenDale White was the muscle, and the powerful runner between the tackles, getting the ‘Thunder’ tag, while Reggie Bush was the glitzy, agile, open field maestro worthy of the ‘Lightning’ moniker. Fast forward ten years, and the fall of 2013 may bring a similar style to the USC backfield with Isaac and Davis.
Ty Isaac has drawn comparisons from a wide range of college and NFL greats like Marcus Allen, Eddie George and Adrian Peterson. He’s the prototypical upright runner who’s not afraid to use his mix of speed and power to get a few extra yards. While he lacks the stout frame of a LenDale White, his confident running style will bring a similar edginess to USC that White brought. Plus, Isaac’s top end speed makes him more of a home run threat than White, while still being physical enough to be called ‘Thunder’.
As for Justin Davis, his game is predicated on speed just like Reggie Bush. Bush came to USC unpolished, relying on his speed and agility to bail out his freshman vision, and in looking at the tape of Davis, his style of running is awfully similar. While Bush’s stride doesn’t match the length of Davis’s, their speed is similar enough to allow Davis to garner the ‘Lightning’ tag. Plus, like Bush, Davis is the best California running back in his class.
For Kennedy Polamalu, he’ll have his hands full of talent in 2013, breaking in three new running backs when you include Tre Madden. And given the uncertainty of the depth of the backfield in 2012, coupled with the past disappointments of the bevy of backs that USC has tried to replace LenDale and Reggie Bush with, it’ll be good for USC and Lane Kiffin to give the backfield new life in 2013.
When USC’s Class of 2006 brought in guys like Allen Bradford, Emmanuel Moody, C.J. Gable and Stafon Johnson, they were given plenty of expectations, and in and the end, they all fell short. Yes, Bradford and Johnson were strong for spells, as was Gable before getting sent to the doghouse one too many times for fumbling, but the shadow of White and Bush put the bar high for USC, and it’s been hard for any running back to get there.
Joe McKnight and Marc Tyler came to USC in 2007 to give it a go, and like their predecessors from a year earlier, ultimately finished with the same fate, completing good careers but failing to leave a lasting impact.
Sure, White and Bush’s legacy at USC will never be equaled, but for a school deemed ‘Tailback u’, it’s got to be at least somewhat surprising that only two backs, McKnight in 2009, and Curtis McNeal in 2011, have passed the 1,000 yard mark since White and Bush entered the 2006 NFL Draft. Then again, perhaps it’s just a testament to USC’s recruiting prowess, as until recently, they’ve been so deep at running back that they haven’t needed to deploy a one or two man backfield, but a stable of running backs.
Regardless of past history or expectations, when Isaac and Davis hit Howard Jones Field in 15 months time, they’ll be worthy enough of garnering a few eyeballs and have style and game to be called Thunder and Lightning. And as long as USC fans don’t put the Heisman tag on the pair before they play a game, as was done with Dillon Baxter, they might just turn out to be alright.