For the second straight week the Trojans showed a renewed commitment to the ground game, and this week those efforts helped seal USC's 27-21 victory over Cal in Berkeley on Saturday.
Against Utah last week the Trojans ran the ball 45 times, and Saturday against the Bears it was 50. USC gained 185 yards on those 50 carries (3.7 yards per carry) and scored a pair of rushing touchdowns, one each from Ronald Jones and Tre Madden.
The ground attack was spread out pretty evenly between the three USC tailbacks. Jones had 11 carries for 80 yards (7.3 yards per carry), Madden had 14 carries for 62 yards (4.4 yards per carry) and Justin Davis had 15 carries for 42 yards (2.8 yards per carry).
The rushing attack helped the Trojans control the ball for 35:08 of the game, which was critical to keep the high-powered Bears passing attack off the field and to help convert six of 15 third-down conversion attempts. Of course, the two interceptions of Cal quarterback Jared Goff by the Trojans were big as well.
The game came down to a final possession with the Trojans holding a six-point lead and less than four minutes to play. It was a time for a team to call upon a ground game to run out the clock, and twice the Trojans were able to convert third-down opportunities on the ground -- the first with Madden bouncing outside for a 14-yard gain and then Davis going left in the open field for the first down. All nine plays on the final drive were runs (the final three were Cody Kessler taking a knee), the clock ran out and the Trojans headed home with the victory in their back pocket.
Was it a perfect game for the Trojans? No, not by any means. But it was the kind of game that showcased the seriousness of Clay Helton’s words when the interim USC coach says he is committed to running the football. USC fans have heard that from the previous two full-time coaches, yet things didn’t always seem to work out that way. Somehow the ball always managed to be in the air a lot, especially during key times in a game that called for a run.
Helton is making his claim to be the next full-time coach at USC, and it’s far too soon to know how much the past two weeks will help his chances in Pat Haden’s eyes. But USC fans have noticed the increased effort in the run game, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.