The Trojans have recently shown a knack for having a unit outshine their expectations by a longshot, and anchor the team, almost unexpectedly.
Last year, Morgan Breslin and Leonard Williams stepped up to earn All-Conference honors on the defense line, which excelled in spite of losing Devon Kennard for the season and being predominantly inexperienced.
In 2011, the same could be said about USC’s offensive line, but led by Matt Kalil and with true freshman Marcus Martin playing alongside him, they gave up just eight sacks all year.
So far through five games, the USC backfield looks to be that unit, here in 2012.
While the Trojans were expected to be much improved, primarily in the depth department with arrival of Justin Davis and Ty Issac, and the return of Tre Madden from an ACL tear, they’ve exceeded expectations such far.
And they’ve done it without the unit’s only returning veterans: Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan.
Madden, who won the starting job outright as the featured back, became the first USC running back to rush for 100 yards in a season’s first three games since 1981. Currently, the redshirt-sophomore sits second in the Pac-12 and seventh in the nation in rushing yards.
For a back returning from a torn knee ligament, in addition to playing his first year at running back after converting from linebacker and playing as a read-option quarterback in high school, it’s been an astounding performance so far.
Then there’s the freshman Davis, who has had a handful of electrifying runs in his brief career, in addition to three outings of 74 yards or more. To date, his season has been highlighted by a 10-carry, 122-yard, three-touchdown performance last week in Tempe.
Both Madden and Davis combined for 250 yards as a tandem against Arizona State, harkening back to the days of the Stable in the late Pete Carroll days, in addition to the Thunder & Lightning duo of LenDale White and Reggie Bush.
Together as a pair, Madden and Davis are showing signs of being one of the nation’s best one-two punches, though it’s far too early to put him in the elite category, given their youth. After all, this is the first season as a collegiate running back for each player.
But now, take into account the return of Silas Redd, who told reporters on Wednesday that he plans to play next Thursday against Arizona.
Redd led the Trojans in rushing in 2012, and was a couple of nagging injuries short of putting up his second-consecutive 1,000-yard season, in two very different conferences, having transferred from Penn State, last July.
While the impact of Redd is still undetermined, based on whether or not he’ll be eased into the lineup or the possibility of him being outright Wally Pipped, the potential of the USC backfield is now that much greater.
Redd now brings experience to the Trojans running game, which could make this group better than The Stable.
In 2008, The Stable included Stafon Johnson, Joe McKnight and C.J. Gable, all of whom had more than 600 yards rushing. The year before, Chauncey Washington led the show with 969 yards, while Johnson and McKnight formed a trio that all had more than 540 yards on the ground.
It wasn’t as flashy and potent as the Thunder & Lightning backfield of the years prior, but it was effective during a four-year stretch without a clear-cut featured back.
This group, assuming Redd stays healthy, should build upon that success, given that Lane Kiffin is now out of the picture.
Under Kiffin, the backfield was repeatedly limited to just two backs per game, sans garbage time.
Three running backs had at least eight carries in a game just twice under Kiffin, both coming in blowouts: at Colorado in 2011 and vs. Boston College in 2013.
And just once did at least four running backs get ample playing time, and that was back in 2010 during a 50-16 rout of Washington State. In that game, Marc Tyler, Allen Bradford and C.J. Gable each had seven carries, while freshman Dillon Baxter had 14.
During the days of The Stable under Pete Carroll and Steve Sarkisian, the backs were shuffled throughout the game on a weekly basis, competing against each other for playing time.
Against UCLA in 2007, Washington, Johnson and Gable combined for 41 carries, with each having at least 13 carries.
A year later, three backs had at least seven carries in a game eight times, with six different running backs playing a part in the trios.
While Sarkisian had much more depth to play with on a regular basis, he still showed more of an urgency to get everyone involved, which was part of Carroll’s ‘always compete’ mantra with the best players playing and pushing each other.
Kiffin, even when he had depth, routinely chose to ride and die with one or two featured backs, leaving guys like Dillon Baxter, D.J. Morgan and Ty Isaac on the bench, without playing time to improve.
With Ed Orgeron stressing competition, rotations and the notion that the best players will play regardless of year or experience, you’d have to imagine that the possibility of The Stable returning is much more likely now than last week.
Third-stringer Javorious “Buck” Allen is averaging five and half yards per carry in a limited role, and he’s excelled in practice since the spring. Plus, according to Orgeron himself, Davis went down with an ankle sprain on Wednesday. Add Silas Redd to the mix and it could all factor into a balanced rotation in the backfield.
After all, having Madden, Davis and Redd all command playing time, in addition to Allen, is a fantastic problem to have. Whether or not they can put together the potential of The Stable 2.0 and actually bring it to fruition, we’ll have to wait and see.
For now, at minimum, the backfield remains USC’s brightest unit.