USC undergoing slight ‘Tailback U’ revival

Many of us who have seen USC football in recent years, and many of us who were groaning our displeasure during the Washington State game earlier this semester, have an idea of what USC’s offense “ought” to be. For the past three seasons, to watch USC’s offense was a ritual of the quarterback dropping back into the pocket. As soon as the ball would fire from Matt Barkley’s hand — it began.

The crowd’s gaze rose with the ball and willed its trajectory. When the ball fell, the referees would throw their hands up. We would throw our hands up, high-five some random people. We would repeat this process three or four times. High-five more random people. Toss a girl up in the air 35 times. Spill some popcorn. It’s Hollywood.

USC’s offense this season has been a little bit more sobering, and quite a bit easier to forget. But the offense is reshaping its identity this season, running the ball more in a way that might be puzzling to a casual football fan.

It’s those dubious play calls that started the “Fire Kiffin” chants, and a lack of understanding of how the game works (on both sides, really) that eventually did him in. Those who understand USC football’s storied history, however, might find a silver lining in this offense of running back by committee — a return to the old “Tailback U” days under Coach John McKay and its brief resurgence under Pete Carroll.

Right now, the Trojans’ run-heavy offense is by necessity. For all the complaints of redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler’s inability to be Matt Barkley, the Trojan faithful should be looking towards a far more obvious reason for the switch: running the ball eats up the clock. It means less snaps and a shorter game. As it stands, the Trojans do not have the depth to engage in a war of attrition with opposing teams.

It’s easy to blame this on the sanctions, and sure, interim head coach Ed Orgeron’s decision to bring desserts back to the table probably isn’t thrilling any strength and conditioning coaches, but the Trojans simply cannot last. They are being bled out in longer games and risked giving up the game against a pretty mediocre Arizona team last week.

But there’s an upside to all of this: The Trojans have one of the most talented running back corps in the nation — and also one of the youngest. Behind senior running back Silas Redd and redshirt junior running back D.J. Morgan, the level of talent is staggering.

Each snap for five-star recruit and freshman running back Justin Davis, each carry for redshirt sophomore running backs Tre Madden and Javorius Allen, is one more step towards mastering the speed of the college game. This is compounded by the fact that one of the Trojans’ most physically gifted offensive weapons, five-star freshman running back Ty Isaac, seems to be lying in wait for an opportunity to prove himself.

The point is, while there will be plenty of questions for the Trojans at quarterback and wide receiver for the foreseeable future, they will be stacked at running back for a couple years to come.

We all know how much I love Justin Davis (and in case you don’t, I really love Justin Davis), but the wide-eyed freshman was turning everyone’s head this spring.

According to 6-foot-3, 295-pound freshman defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow, Davis is the strongest guy on the team. Davis’ reputation around the team is one of being a gym rat, the kind of guy whose biceps make a certain Daily Trojan sports columnist want to hit up the Lyon Center and start drinking his Muscle Milk.

But it’s this combination of work ethic, bull-like strength, and complete lack of regard for oncoming defenders that could shape Davis into the one: the next to carry the torch in a lineage of Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Marcus Allen, Charles White, and yes, R—-e B–h. Yes, it’s a bit of a stretch. But it’s not impossible, and it’s definitely a more reasonable expectation than Cody Kessler evolving into the second coming of Matt Barkley.

Will the Trojans contend for a spot in the four-team playoff next season? There’s a chance they might, depending on how this coaching situation pans out.

Should they keep running the ball, though? Well, yes. Coach O, we’re not in Hollywood anymore. The days of expecting Marqise Lee to come down with a miraculous catch seem like all but a memory. After this season, it will be. This is a program, and a fanbase, that needs to start looking on the field, where the work is done — and not up at the stars.


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