Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC vs. Fresno State Report Card: Grading the Running Backs

The Trojans ran the ball 64 times for 277 yards in a 52-13 win over Fresno State on Saturday night.

That’s a Navy-esque stat line. But  if you watched the game, it surely didn’t feel as though USC was pounding the ball that much on the ground.

Instead, it’s a testament to the benefits of Sarkisian’s HUNH pro-style, run-first attack. Lots of plays, mean more yards, more scoring opportunities, and less pressure to be perfect on every single play.

USC’s 4.3 yards per carry aren’t anything to write home about, but when it’s setting up the pass, controlling the clock and pushing the tempo as much as it was on Saturday night, it might as well be 5.3 yards per.

Sarkisian said that he’s going to split reps at tailback and while we saw that with Tre Madden out, Buck Allen was still a clear-cut featured back in Week 1.

Allen led the Trojans with 133 yards on 22 carries, one of which going for a touchdown.

The new shotgun base formation gave additional running lanes for Allen’s speed, along with the shiftiness of sophomore Justin Davis.

Davis didn’t have a strong game statistically, averaging 2.5 yards per carry on 12 carries, but he did tease spectators with his elusive running style in tight quarters.

Walk-on fourth stringer James Toland IV looked liked Desmond Reed circa 2005, picking up a ton of fourth quarter carries while looking impressive with how slippery he was.

He finished with 47 yards on a dozen carries, and with the Trojans’ low numbers including the departure of Anthony Brown, could wind up as a scholarship player before long.

Fullback Soma Vainuku had two carries, picking up first downs both times as a change-of-pace back. He had success as a power tailback late last season, highlighted by a big rumble against Colorado in November.

Aside from the simple production of the running game, the varied deployment of personnel out of the backfield has to be biggest take away from the season opener.

This isn’t the Lane Kiffin offense anymore. The shotgun formation gives many more options to the running game.

Two-way extraordinaire Adoree’ Jackson lined up in splitbacks a handful of times, along with Vainuku seeing time as a fullback and tailback.

Going into the Stanford game, it’ll be interesting to see if formations change as a means of gamesmanship.

Perhaps lining up Jackson as a running back was a decoy for next week, and if Tre Madden can get healthy in time, who knows how the carries will be decided.

Nonetheless, it was solid performance by the backs on Saturday.

Grade: B

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Tags: Buck Allen Football James Toland IV Justin Davis Soma Vainuku USC Trojans

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