The USC Trojans won't be able to incorporate all five of their running backs into their weekly game plan.
They just won't. It doesn't work to split a couple dozen carries among a quintet of players. But what they will do, coach Lane Kiffin and running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu have indicated this week, is look to other parts of the game to determine who will get carries and how many they will get.
An example: In the third quarter of last week's game against Syracuse, Curtis McNeal made a big special-teams tackle, bringing down the Orange kick returner at the 10-yard line. Then, a bit later, McNeal got the ball five times in the fourth quarter and made himself stand out even more with 79 rushing yards, including a game-long 43-yard run.
Thursday, Polamalu compared his situation to that of D.J. Morgan, the redshirt freshman running back who lost his starting spot after fumbling in the first half of the Utah game in Week 2 and then fell even further behind the rest of the backs when he fumbled again on his only carry against Syracuse.
McNeal also fumbled against the Orange, on a kickoff return in the third quarter. The only thing different was that the Trojans recovered it.
"Curtis had the same issue happen to him," Polamalu said. "But the difference was that Curtis turned around and made a big play on special teams without the football. And that's how he gained his confidence and went on and had a good rushing game at the end of the Syracuse game.
"That's what we need to find for [Morgan]."
Polamalu is endlessly positive. Instead of looking at the running back depth chart as a sign that Morgan is out of luck for the rest of the year, he points to other players he has had in the past who have made their names on special teams when time at running back wasn't as available as they'd like: Allen Bradford, Reggie Bush, even guys like Maurice Jones-Drew and Greg Jones who he coached in the NFL.
"I've explained to [Morgan] -- the great ones I've been around, it didn't matter if they were stacking cups or scout team, they always left me with the impression of, 'Wow. Look at him compete,' " Polamalu said. "And that's the part of the maturation process and maturity.
"Some get it; some don't. Right now, he's in the growing process."
The other running backs are in various stages in that progress. True freshman Amir Carlisle has impressed his coaches and teammates with his willingness to get involved in other facets of the game. In only six weeks with the team, he already has done everything for the Trojans, from scout team to first team and back and forth.
"That's what Amir does, and he's fared well," Polamalu said. "You watch the scout team in those blue shirts they have, he's the first one down. He doesn't need the ball to make plays.
"And that's why his confidence is up and the coaching staff and the players, they see that."
Marc Tyler's still the starter, though. He's listed as the No. 1 back this week despite his lackluster performance against Syracuse, and he's clearly getting another chance to prove himself against Arizona State.
Polamalu had an interesting perspective on Tyler's status -- essentially, he's not where he could have been had he avoided a suspension, but he's still in a pretty good spot.
"I just believe that if you do things right on and off in preparing, your mind is focused and you can win this job," he said. "And I think Marc is getting to that point. Obviously with the suspension, it was delayed. And if he had practiced in spring ball and not gotten in trouble, he'd probably by by far (the starter).
"He's our best runner, not just at running back. He's our best football IQ guy. He understands all the concepts, he knows how to protect the quarterback, he knows how to run the routes, he runs hard, he knows how to block, where the hole's going to be. And the other guys are gaining that. And being around a guy like that has helped them."