USC coach Lane Kiffin made a big deal this offseason about his desire to get back to a more physical run game with the Trojans, one that could control the line of scrimmage when needed.
Kiffin referenced this need in part to help slow down the game when his team had a lead or simply wanted to keep the opposing offense off the field. Too many times, Kiffin said, the Trojans were unable to rely on the run game in those situations because it wasn’t an integral part of their identity.
The upcoming game against Washington State offers a good test for that strategy when you consider the Cougars wide-open, pass-happy attack. It’s no secret that Mike Leach likes to throw the ball around the field to keep the opponent off-balance. His quarterback, Connor Halliday, threw the ball 65 times against Auburn and completed passes to ten different receivers. It almost worked, too, as the Cougars nearly pulled off the upset.
Unfortunately for Washington State, Auburn showed the Cougars' rush defense can be vulnerable as the Tigers ran the ball 46 times for 295 yards and a pair of touchdowns. That’s a 6.4-yard per carry clip, which was helped by a 75-yard touchdown run but that is still a solid day of rushing by Auburn.
Look for Kiffin to continue emphasizing the Trojans' run game this week, something he did well against Hawaii with 45 total rushes, 37 of them by the tailbacks that went for 205 yards. If your tailbacks are averaging roughly five yards per carry and getting nearly 40 touches a game that is going to be a good recipe more often than not.
The Cougars run an attacking 3-4 defense that can give up the big play. Washington State defensive coordinator Mike Breske said his team gave up five explosive run plays against Auburn. The leading tackler for the Cougars is safety Deone Bucannon so that means there is opportunity up front for the Trojans in the run game.
USC will likely use a combination of tailbacks in the game; Tre Madden and Justin Davis will be in the mix as could Buck Allen or even Silas Redd if he can return from injury. All can offer a solid physical presence when running the ball. The Trojans offensive line blocked well in the opener against Hawaii -- led by Kevin Graf with seven pancake blocks -- and the line play figure to improve as the unit becomes more comfortable playing together.
If the Trojans can run the ball effectively -- and help keep the Cougars' offense off the field at the same time -- it should add up to a positive outcome in the conference opener.