In USC’s Sept. 1 season opener against Hawaii, we expected to see the debut of the Curtis McNeal/Silas Redd tandem that the Trojans worked so hard to orchestrate during the offseason, but instead we were treated to Matt Barkley dropping bombs all over the Hawai’i defense. McNeal and Redd only had 15 carries between them, and Redd only dazzled once with a 30-plus yard touchdown run. As much of a spectacle as it was to see USC command the airways, it left us wondering what is going on with the running game that we saw so little of it?
One could argue that Coach Kiffin was merely exploiting a weakness in Hawai’i's secondary, and that the run game was not much needed. Or maybe Redd is still learning the playbook, and the Trojans are trying to preserve him and McNeal (who battled knee ailments in 2011) until they are really needed. Depth issues are still something that define the way this USC team is run, and it keeping your only two proven, veteran rushers healthy is definitely a good idea. But the Trojans are only going to face tougher opponents as the season wears on, and having to watch the run game struggle again like in the 2011 season is not going to make winning come easy.
The Hawai’i game would have been a great opportunity for the ground game to start and get its legs, but for whatever reason, that did not happen. Now the Trojans can look forward to this week’s game against Syracuse as the possible coming-out party for Redd, and the unveiling of the dynamic that he and McNeal have established.
USC travels to New York/New Jersey for this match up, taking on the Orange in MetLife stadium. The last time the Trojans played in this region of the country, they bested Penn State 29-5 in 2000 at Giants Stadium, and the last time they took on ‘Cuse, Barkley had one of his best games ever in that 38-17 victory. He completed 26 of 39 passes for 324 yards, five touchdowns and threw no interceptions.
Obviously, this is game USC is expected to win, and the Orange–having likely watched the game against the Rainbow Warriors–are dreaded the passing game the Trojans tout. If they’re smart, their strategy will be to lock down Lee and Woods, leaving Redd and McNeal with the opportunity to make Syracuse (and USC’s impending opponents) fear the ground game as well.
These two running backs can put up some impressive numbers this week, if they capitalize on the opportunities given to them.
A balanced offensive attack is essential for the Trojans to go the distance and if we learned anything from how prolific McNeal was at the end of the season, it’s that USC will want to get the running game established now.