Coming into the season, it was expected that USC’s run game would feature a dominant running back. Three games in and it appears that expectations have been met, if not surpassed.
The only surprise is that the running back is not senior Silas Redd, whose injured knee has prevented him from playing.
Instead, redshirt sophomore Tre Madden has picked up the slack, acting as a reliable power back for USC in the early portion of the season.
Madden, who redshirted last year after a season-ending ACL injury in spring practice, has established himself as the team’s starter at tailback. Originally recruited as a linebacker, he has already made a name for himself in Trojan lore, becoming the first running back to open a season with three straight 100 plus rushing yard games since Marcus Allen in 1981.
This impressive start has catapulted Madden into a rarely reached atmosphere, as only six other Trojan running backs have accomplished this feat, four of whom went on to win Heisman trophies.
Even with this auspicious debut, Madden has remained humble, praising his offensive line and fullbacks for putting forth a great blocking effort.
“The guys up front have been doing a great job,” Madden said. “I give all [the credit] to them.”
In addition to the immense potential Madden has flashed on the ground, he has shown his capability as a blocker and receiver out of the backfield. Madden credits this versatility to the wide variety of positions he has played along the way. At Mission Viejo High School, he played quarterback in addition to suiting up as a linebacker as a freshman. Both of these experiences have added dimensions to Madden’s game.
“For vision, reading the safeties and corners, I think [previously playing quarterback] helps out,” Madden said.
His stint at linebacker contributes to his punishing and intelligent running style.
Of his time at linebacker, Madden says it has helped him with “just being physical … and knowing where the linebackers are going to end up.”
As a blocker, Madden credits an increase in football IQ for his improvement.
“Knowing the technique … and where the offensive line is going to slide to. Different things you need to know to be successful,” Madden said.
Only three games into his collegiate career on the offensive side of the ball, Madden’s future looks very bright, and has already drawn praise from an array of admirers, including USC legend Marcus Allen himself.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Allen said Madden is “just sort of scratching the surface of his potential. The more he plays the position the better he’ll get and he’ll realize he can get even more out of himself.”
The lofty praise from the former All-American echoes sentiments from head coach Lane Kiffin, who seems pleased with Madden thus far.
“It’s hard to start much better than he has,” Kiffin said.
In addition to seeking advice from the coaches, Madden talks strategy with his dad who has coached him throughout his life and played college football at Kansas State.
Madden’s physical running style has evoked comparisons to everyone from Allen to Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, whom Madden designates as his favorite running back.
“[Foster] brings a physicality to the game,” Madden said. “He is very determined with his running style and I think I feed off that.”
The running back’s tremendous start has been complemented by the emergence of talented true freshman Justin Davis, whose shifty runs have garnered their own share of attention and praise. Together, the two provide a glimpse of a potent future combination akin to that of Lightning and Thunder with Reggie Bush and LenDale White.
Davis said he looks to the veteran Madden for advice.
“He has been here for three years already… so definitely he helps me out with a lot of tips,” Davis said. “I have to make sure when I get back on the field that I match his intensity.”
As Madden looks to continue to punish would-be tacklers on the gridiron, Kiffin might find himself in quite the predicament in the upcoming weeks. When Silas Redd returns from his injury, there will be a crowded backfield with a bevy of talented backs looking for touches.
Madden said he hopes to do what is best for the team, even if it means possibly sharing carries.
“We have great running backs and getting fresh legs on all the carries is definitely more beneficial to this team,” Madden said.
That’s probably true — but it wouldn’t hurt to keep giving Madden the ball as much as possible.