Marcus Allen’s USC record for carries in a season(433 in 1981) is a big deal. So much so that it’s a record that will never be broken when you consider that it’s been 12 years since a tailback has even hit the halfway mark to the record. The game has evolved so much in 31 years that having just one every-down back isn’t feasible anymore, hence USC’s need for Penn State transfer Silas Redd.
With Redd in the backfield alongside Curtis McNeal, the Trojans now have two 1,000-yard rushers from a season ago, and they give Lane Kiffin the best one-two punch in the backfield since Reggie Bush and LenDale White trounced defenses in 2005.
Having two proven backs in the same backfield may be a pleasant luxury for the Trojans given the lack of a consistent rotation in the last seven years, but it’s a luxury that instantly makes the offense that much more potent.
In theory, Silas Redd comes to USC as the third down back and a guy that will pound the ball in the red zone, much like Allen Bradford and Marc Tyler were supposed to do in Kiffin’s first two years at the helm of Troy. The difference between Redd and those two however, is the experience.
Penn State had one of the worst quarterback duos in the nation a year ago, headlined by Matt McGloin’s team-high eight touchdown passes, and backup Rob Bolden’s 39 percent completion percentage. The Nittany Lions’ ineptness in the passing game forced eight men in the box on running downs and subsequently put Redd in a spot to work hard for all 1,241 yards he earned as a true sophomore.
That experience of playing with grit against stacked defensive packages gives Redd a leg up on McNeal and D.J. Morgan in pressure situations on third and short. However, unlike at Penn State, with the personnel the Trojans have at the skill positions, Kiffin’s playbook is wide open in short yardage situations and in the red zone, adding to the idea that on the whole, Redd and McNeal are very similar.
Unlike Bush and White, or even Joe McKnight and Stafon Johnson, having McNeal and Redd in the same backfield doesn’t immediately make them a ‘thunder and lightning’ package. Will they be a potent duo and the most talented in a while? Yes. But despite Redd’s insertion into the lineup in the red zone and on short yardage downs, the running styles of Redd and McNeal don’t have a contrast that can bear the ‘thunder and lightning’ name.
If anything, they’re both lightning type backs, although both have more power than people given them credit for, as backs who are short in stature. The idea that Redd is a power back just doesn’t fit, and is only slightly plausible in comparision with McNeal, but again, neither of them have any sort of Broderick Green or Allen Bradford thump in them.
But despite their similar styles, as a duo they can still be extremely effective, if Lane Kiffin gets creative, which he typically does. Neither are pass-catching backs, as they combined for just 12 receptions in 2011, but they can play a big role in the passing game through the use of play-action.
Last year, when D.J. Morgan or George Farmer lined up in the backfield in the second half of the year, it was typically as a decoy. This year, with a two-pronged attack in the backfield, Kiffin won’t exactly need decoys, making the defense more susceptible to the play-action pass.
In 2005 under Kiffin, the Trojans were notorious for opening games with the pass and finishing them off on the ground. Considering that Marqise Lee was the catalyst for the rise in the running game a year ago, it’s conceivable that this version of the Lane Kiffin offense could very well play out like it did in 2005, with a passing game that sets up the run, and a running game that sets up the pass.
Despite the success of that dynamic in the latter part of the year last year, the Trojans really only had one consistent running back, as Marc Tyler had just 26 carries over the last five games. With two backs to keep defenses honest, the sky is the limit for the USC offense. The last time Lane Kiffin had an offense with a shot at having two 1,000-yard rushers and two 1,000-yard receivers in addition to a 3,000-yard passer, the Trojans fell just short of those numbers, though they averaged 49.1 points per game, and racked up nearly 600 yards of offense per game.
It all starts with having two proven running backs.