USC goes to power running game
Lane Kiffin has been searching for an offensive identity for USC almost since he took over in January.
The Trojans may have finally found one while laboring through a victory over Minnesota on Saturday, and it centers on a hard-nosed approach that belies the glitzy and glamorous image that the program projected for most of this decade.
With the offense sputtering against another inferior opponent, USC eschewed the wide-open attack that once was the hallmark of its high-powered machine in favor of a power running game to outmuscle and outlast Minnesota in a 32-21 victory.
Allen Bradford rushed for 131 yards and a score and the Trojans racked up 216 yards on the ground with 38 attempts while throwing the ball only 26 times.
''We'd like that to be our personality,'' Kiffin said.
With three talented running backs and an offensive line that prefers road grading to pass blocking, the Trojans may have found their offensive identity in the Twin Cities this weekend. They averaged 5.7 yards per carry and showed the ability to grind out the tough yards and pop the big play.
Marc Tyler had nine carries for 33 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown run, Dillon Baxter added 25 yards on seven attempts, and Bradford put the game away with a 56-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter.
USC (3-0) dropped from No. 18 to No. 20 in The Associated Press Top 25 on Sunday after the underwhelming performance. They open the Pac-10 schedule against Washington State this week.
''The running game was on fire,'' quarterback Matt Barkley said. ''Marc Tyler and even C.J. Gable there at the end, they were hitting the holes hard. That is what you need when the passing game isn't working.''
Gable had six carries for 36 yards as USC finished off the Golden Gophers, helping Barkley overcome a sluggish performance.
The latest in a long line of high profile quarterbacks to start for the Trojans, Barkley had seven touchdowns and no interceptions in victories over Hawaii and Virginia to start the season. But after they edged the Cavaliers 17-14 at home in Week 2, the talk last week centered around shoring up a sloppy offensive unit.
Barkley was even more out of sync in Minnesota, missing a wide-open David Ausberry on what would have been an easy touchdown in the first quarter. He also threw his first two interceptions of the season and completed 17 of 26 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns.
''It is good to know you can rely on a solid running game like we have,'' Barkley said. ''I'm proud of the guys and how we did. We didn't stop until the end.''
Bradford's big game came as somewhat of a surprise. Tyler emerged as the starter after a strong performance in fall practice and Baxter was the dynamic freshman with the jam-packed highlight reel. But Bradford impressed in practice during the week, then was easily the most effective runner early in the game on Saturday.
''I knew once my number was called I was going to go out there and play hard,'' Bradford said. ''I was supposed to be the starter but things happen. Whenever an opportunity comes knocking, I'm going to answer.''
Once he got going, the Gophers really couldn't stop him.
Time and again, USC ran the power sweep to seal the edge and spring Bradford for big gains down the sideline. It was a hard-nosed, lunch pail kind of approach that eventually yielded the big play the Trojans have been known for when Bradford burst through a hole off left guard and rumbled 56 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.
''You're going to have games like that, especially on the road,'' Kiffin said. ''When things start not going your way, you kind of need to rely on the ground game. That's the first time we've done that out of three games. At least we know it's there as part of our offense.''