Early in the season, it seemed as if senior tailback Allen Bradford was going to be the one to break out of the stable and establish himself as the every-down back in USC’s talent-loaded backfield.
It hasn’t worked out quite like that.
After Bradford had a big game against Minnesota, rushing 12 times for 131 yards and one touchdown, and an even bigger game two weeks later against Washington, rushing 21 times for 223 yards and two touchdowns, Bradford has almost been invisible recently.
In the five games since the personal demolition derby he exhibited against the Huskies, Bradford has totaled 26 carries for 71 yards and one touchdown. That includes the zero carries he got last week at Arizona.
Bradford mentioned earlier in the year that he was nagged by a toe injury that hindered his running ability. On Tuesday, he said he was feeling healthy, yet he still didn’t get any carries just a few days before in Tucson, Ariz.
The running back went into coach Lane Kiffin’s office to figure out the problem.
“Me being a fifth-year senior, I wanted to know the truth,” Bradford said. “Lane Kiffin always keeps it honest. Basically I’ve got to keep the ball high and tight. It’s ball security. I sat down with [running backs coach Kennedy Pola] and he showed me my last 20 carries.”
What Bradford saw in those carries was a lot of fumbles. In his last nine touches dating back to the California game, Bradford has fumbled the ball four times.
“We went back and watched [his last several carries] and he put the ball on the ground a couple times,” Kiffin said. “We went to him [in the] Arizona State game and first time we went to him he put the ball on the ground. He knows and he’s reminded that that’s more important than anything else, taking care of the ball.”
Kiffin said he and Bradford had a similar conversation earlier in the year, in the week leading up to the Minnesota game. Bradford responded with a solid performance, and now that he’s healthy, Bradford said he hopes to run more. But he knows that his fumbles were not caused by his toe injury.
“I wasn’t running like myself,” Bradford said. “I was injured but it still was no excuse for me letting the ball on the ground.”
With temperatures expected to be in the low 40s or high 30s and rainy in Corvaillis, Ore., this weekend, the Trojans are preparing to play in the cold and wet conditions they are not used to.
Several times, USC practiced with a wet ball on Tuesday simulating the conditions expected for Saturday.
“We were throwing water on the balls, you might have seen some of the ugly [throws] at first,” sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley said. “You can’t really simulate coldness. But it won’t be a problem. I think it’s a lot harder to put water on a dry ball out here because when you know it’s rainy and know it’s wet, you can adapt.”