PULLMAN – For years, the University of Southern California was known as Tailback U.
From Mike Garrett to O.J. Simpson to Anthony Davis to Ricky Bell to Charles White to Marcus Allen to Reggie Bush, the Trojans seemed to turn out All-America running backs like most schools turn out General Studies majors.
But in this most recent run of USC domination, quarterbacks have stolen the limelight. Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, John David Booty and Mark Sanchez have passed through over the past 10 years and hold eight of the school’s top 10 single-season passing marks.
Then Pete Carroll took off for Seattle. And new head coach Lane Kiffin seems to be reemphasizing the running game.
The Trojans, using four running backs extensively, are averaging almost 200 yards a game, bringing balance – quarterback Matt Barkley averages 217 yards a game and completes 65.5 percent of his passes – to an offense that became pass-dependent at times in the Carroll era.
“They’re basically, ‘this is what we do, try to stop us,’ “ senior defensive end Kevin Kooyman said. “It’s a pretty simple, pro-style offense. They’re going to line up in there and play smash-mouth football, some play-action (pass) in there. They’re pretty well balanced, about 50-50 run pass.
“So it’s them saying, ‘come out and play and stop us.’”
Kiffin has four backs to choose from and he has yet to pick a starter for Saturday’s noon start (FSN) in Martin Stadium.
Junior Marc Tyler, son of former UCLA-great Wendell Tyler, has started the first three games and the 5-foot-11, 230-pound speedster has 254 yards, averaging 5.8 per carry.
But senior Allen Bradford (6-foot, 235) replaced Tyler last week after a fumble and rumbled for 131 yards on 12 carries. He’s averaged 8.4 yards on his 23 runs this season.
Behind those two are senior C.J. Gable (6-foot, 205), who has seen limited action but is averaging 5.4 yards a carry, and freshman Dillon Baxter (6-foot, 195), who was suspended for the opener at Hawaii but has gained 73 yards on 16 carries since.
Big backs. Big challenges for WSU middle linebacker Mike Ledgerwood. Heck, they’re bigger than he is, right?
“They might be the same size,” Ledgerwood, who is 6-1 and 231 pounds, answered, laughing. “They’re fast, they’re explosive. But, it’s really nothing we can’t handle as long as we wrap up, practicing what we’ve been doing.”
“They’ve got four kids who can really run,” said WSU coach Paul Wulff. “You better be sure tacklers and you better get them down. They’re big in their offensive line, they’re athletic and they’re a tough challenge.”
One thing the Trojans, running behind an offensive line that averages nearly 300 pounds, won’t do is trick you.
“When they run the ball, they’re just going to run the ball,” Ledgerwood said. “There’s going to be no spreading us out or anything like that. It’s just read the fullback and go hit someone in the mouth. I’m really excited about that.”