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The Return of "Tailback U": USC 2013 Running Back Preview

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A fully healthy Silas Redd appears to have the inside track on the starting running back job for the USC Trojans in 2013. Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images.
A fully healthy Silas Redd appears to have the inside track on the starting running back job for the USC Trojans in 2013. Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images.

The 2012 season for USC was filled with inconsistency and unfulfilled expectations. The Trojans finished with an unimpressive 7-6 record after a preseason of high hopes. What went wrong for the Trojans? Was it the quarterbacking of Matt Barkley? Was it the porous defense of assistant coach Monte Kiffin? Or was it the offensive play-calling of head coach Lane Kiffin?

The Trojans have traditionally been a ground-and-pound offensive team. Great tailbacks have been funneled out of the program for decades, such as O.J. Simpson, Anthony Davis, Mike Garrett, Marcus Allen, Charles White and Reggie Bush. These tailbacks have enabled USC to control the flow of the game and allow quarterbacks like Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez develop at a modest rate. But in 2012, the Trojans possessed an inconsistent tailback group and head coach Kiffin fell in love with the pass. Of course, it didn’t help that the defense was prone to relinquish an easy touchdown and the Trojans had two star wide receivers, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. These factors forced an increased passing attack.

In 2012, the Trojans finished 73rd in the nation with an average of 150.6 rushing yards per game. Silas Redd, who transferred from Penn State, headed the tailback group with Curtis McNeal, who left for the NFL and signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. With Redd and McNeal, the theme throughout the season was the appearance and disappearance of production. Redd and McNeal dominated California and Washington when they combined for 263 and 213 rushing yards, respectively; however, against Colorado and Hawaii, they disappeared, managing only 29 and 66 combined rushing yards, respectively. As the season progressed, Kiffin was never allowed to create a flow in his offense and was relegated to putting out fires at every unproductive position.

Heading into the 2013 season, Kiffin has replaced his father, Monte, with Clancy Pendergast as defensive coordinator in an attempt to strengthen that unit. Barkley and Woods have also departed, and their replacements have yet to be determined. With a strengthened defense and the uncertainty at the quarterback position, Kiffin has made a commitment to implementing an improved running game. Here is the list of the top four tailbacks competing for the starting position in 2013:

Silas Redd, Senior: Redd (5-foot-10, 200 pounds) was a wanted man after the NCAA allowed players to transfer from Penn State prior to the 2012 season. USC won the sweepstakes, and the general buzz around college football was he was the final piece of USC’s championship puzzle. Fast forward a year, and the buzz is a distant memory with Redd trying now to reestablish his career. In hindsight, it made sense Redd would have some drop-off after switching teammates, schools, systems, quarterbacks, friends, coast and coaches. These life changes would be enormous for any person, let alone a 20-year-old. The result was a loss in production from 1,241 rushing yards to 904 coupled with a loss in consistency. Redd’s plunge into USC was perceived as a free agent acquisition, but he should have been brought into the program slower. He now has a new beginning and a year’s experience of life in Los Angeles. Look for him to have a productive year and take advantage of Kiffin’s renewed dedication to “Tailback U” with his size and strength. The only problem on the horizon for Redd is he sustained a torn meniscus during spring practice. USC projects he should be ready prior to fall camp.

Tre Madden, RS Sophomore: Madden missed the entire 2012 season due to an ACL injury, but now he is healthy and ready to contribute. He is a former linebacker, and it shows in his aggressive running style and ability to attack the line of scrimmage. Madden (6-1, 220) is an imposing force who inserts his will upon others. He should work nicely with Redd and give Kiffin another tailback to use without having a huge drop-off in production. Health permitting, Madden will be a solid contributor.  

D.J. Morgan, RS Junior: Morgan, a member of the USC track and field team, is a swift runner with “home run” abilities. Although he only played in seven games during the 2012 season, he did produce 201 yards on 41 carries. Redd should get most of the carries in 2013, but Morgan should see increased action and be ready in the event Redd isn’t fully recovered from his injury. Morgan (5-10, 190) is also a change of pace from Redd, because he is slightly smaller and more elusive than Redd.

Justin Davis, Freshman: Davis had an excellent spring camp, and it surprised many. He is a naturally gifted runner with fantastic vision on the field, making him an overall scoring threat. Although he is a freshman, expect Davis to see playing time in his first season. The former “Prep Star All-American Dream Team” member also has size (6-1, 215) to accompany his speed. Davis is a player you want to keep your eyes on, though he may not see much playing time this season.

Javorius Allen, RS Sophomore: Allen (6-1, 210) is a steady back who has been healthy most of his career. This season will be a true test to see if he can break the rotation and see increased playing time over his three-game, six-carry, 32-yard totals. But it appears with the talent in camp, he may be at the back end of the depth chart. If injuries at the top happen, he may see increased playing time.

It remains to be seen if “Tailback U” will return to the Coliseum in 2013. But USC does possess the talent to make the running game the strength of the Trojans' team. If the running game falters and the Trojans don’t improve from a 7-6 record, Kiffin's job security may be at risk. The tailbacks will be an interesting group to monitor when fall camp begins.