There is nothing that I love more than hardnosed, physical football. Nothing defines hardnosed, physical football on the offensive side of the ball more than the running game. Running the ball is an attitude. It is an attitude that says, “I’m badder and tougher than you”. It is an attitude that says, “I am going to physically impose my will on you and break your will to compete”.
I have been screaming for the Trojans to display this attitude on the field this season and they finally got it done against the Cal Bears. The Trojans ran the ball 40 times on Saturday, more than any game this season and running the ball didn’t seem like a mere afterthought of the offensive game plan. The running game was actually the featured attraction.
As the Trojans were amassing 296 yards on the ground, you could see the windows that it was opening in other aspects of their offensive game plan. Play action and deep passes opened up – although there were some miscues in the passing game like dropped passes and interceptions. Cal’s defensive pass rush was slowed down as Cal had to respect and defend the run. The result was that Matt Barkley wasn’t sacked once.
Silas Redd had his best rushing total as a Trojan and the second best of his career, rushing for 158 yards. Redd and Curtis McNeal (115 yards) combined for 273 of the Trojans’ rushing total on the day, an average of 8.8 yards per carry.
Through the air, the Trojans had a rather pedestrian day with Barkley only mustering 192 yards and throwing another 2 interceptions. However, what I loved seeing is that Barkley seemed to put a greater emphasis of targeting various receivers in the passing game. There was also a commitment to attacking different parts of the field instead of just the part between the hash and the sideline.
This kind of diversity in play calling, to go along with a great run/pass balance – 40 runs to 34 passes – make it extremely difficult to defend this team. There does seem to be some chemistry/communication issues with Barkley and Robert Woods that has lingered for this early part of the season. I am sure that Lane Kiffin will take the 12 days between now and their match-up with Utah to iron those things out; along with the turnovers over the last few games.
Defensively the Trojans looked much better than they did against the Cardinal. There were some coverage issues in the back end that allowed receivers to run free. I can point to Keenan Allen standing wide open in the end zone on the play that T.J. McDonald intercepted Zach Maynard on the sideline. There were a few other instances of receivers running free through the secondary. These coverage issues were covered up by the constant pressure that the defensive line was able to provide throughout the game.
Despite Cal often times trying to move the pocket and get Maynard out on the edge to avoid pressure, the Trojans’ front was able to hammer him throughout the game. The defensive line turned in a 7 sack game, led by Morgan Breslin’s 3 sacks and Leonard Williams’ 2 sacks.
After getting pummeled against Stanford’s running game the week prior, the Trojans allowed Cal just 77 yards on 36 attempts. This is a big improvement over the 202 yards and 5.5 yards per carry they gave up to the Cardinal.
There are still some adjustments that need to be made in the secondary on defense and in the passing game on offense. It seems as if the Trojans are moving in the right direction and should be hitting their stride as they get into the thick of Pac-12 play. Let’s hope that with this 12 day break until their next game the Trojans can get healthy, namely Khaled Holmes and Hayes Pullard who left Saturday’s game with undisclosed injuries.