The last time Reggie Bush suited up for the Trojans was in the 2006 Rose Bowl.
You wouldn’t have known it at Saturday’s practice, which featured the first intrasquad scrimmage of the spring.
Freshman running back Dillon Baxter put on his best Bush impression during the scrimmage, dazzling the crowd with ankle-breaking cuts and a pair of long runs. Baxter finished with 94 yards on just nine carries, including a 50-yard touchdown run that left several defenders on their backsides.
“I thought [Baxter] was phenomenal,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “His scoring run looked like Reggie Bush’s against Fresno State in 2005. It didn’t matter who was in front of him, nobody could stop him.”
His teammates were just as impressed by his touchdown run. Baxter emerged from a pile near the right sideline and wove around defenders on his way to the end zone.
“Dillon definitely did some crazy stuff today,” redshirt junior running back Marc Tyler said. “It was fun out there watching him. He did some crazy, stupid stuff today, like a damn videogame.”
Baxter is just one of the running backs looking to work their way into the rotation this spring. Senior Allen Bradford is the leading returning rusher for USC and should be a workhorse for the Trojans. Bradford, who rushed for 668 yards and eight touchdowns last season, carried the ball a team-high 10 times during the scrimmage for 27 yards.
“Whatever coach Kiffin gives me I’m going to take by the reins and do the best I can,” Bradford said.
Part of his responsibilities this season will be mentoring the younger players. Bradford said he has been sharing a simple message with them this spring.
“Go out there and do the little stuff right,” he said. “It’s the little stuff that counts. You can’t look for the big plays every time you get the ball. The big plays are going to come.”
The big plays certainly came on Saturday for Baxter, who had a slow start to spring practice. He ripped off another long run later in the scrimmage that had defenders turned in circles. Now that the freshman — who enrolled in school early so he could take part in spring practice — is getting comfortable, more big plays like the two he had on Saturday could be on the way.
Another running back trying to make an impression on the new coaching staff is Tyler. A top prospect coming out of high school, injuries held Tyler back in his first two seasons. He wants to focus this year on staying healthy.
“The past years I’ve been getting hurt, and that’s really hurt my chances of playing and getting in there,” Tyler said. “If I stay healthy, anything can happen.”
If Tyler can avoid the injuries that have plagued him thus far, he and Bradford should give the Trojans a formidable one-two punch. And if Baxter and speedy sophomore Curtis McNeal can give USC a pair of home run threats the team could have a running attack not unlike the old backfield tandem of Bush and LenDale White.
A number of other USC players turned in standout performances on Saturday. Sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley and senior receiver Ronald Johnson connected for a pair of touchdowns, including a 70-yard strike, and junior defensive tackle Da’John Harris recorded five tackles and returned a stripped ball 52 yards.