Kiffin has high hopes for USC's running game

BY foxsports • July 26, 2013

LOS ANGELES – In 2012, USC had two reigning 1,000-yard rushers in its backfield.
Neither broke the 1K mark by season's end.

USC's running game was far less superior than it had been in years past. Lane Kiffin was and still is searching for answers.

The ground game, or lack thereof, contributed to the demise of the Trojans leading to a 7-6 2012.

However, if you ask Kiffin where his team's season began to change, he points to a pass play while speaking at Pac-12 media day at Sony Studios on Thursday.

It was the fourth Saturday in October. Kiffin's Trojans, 6-1 at the time, were in Tucson and in control in the second half, up by 15 points.

Matt Barkley looked to Robert Woods on a double move. If Woods catches it, it's a touchdown and USC is sitting pretty with a 22-point third quarter lead. However, the timing was way off. Barkley overshot Woods and it was all downhill for the Trojans from that point.

Marqise Lee's 345 yards receiving weren't enough to deliver a win that day, and the effects were felt the rest of the year.

After suffering their second loss of the season, the team was in a position they were unable to recover from.

"I think it kind of messed with our minds here and there knowing that you're supposed to win that game and you didn't," Lee said. "And now you go from 6-1 to 6-2 rather than 7-1. You lose two games and the national championship is out of the question and I think the downfall for our team was we (were) thinking about it too much after that second loss.

"After that second loss I feel as if we thought about it too much like 'Man, we're not going to make it. This is not the season we wanted,' and we let that continue to tear us down.”  
Kiffin pointing to the Barkley-Woods incompletion is consistent with what he preached in 2012. He talked about it repeatedly at the end of the 2012 season and as the 2013 season approaches, his tune hasn't changed.

"We were in command of that game, up 15 with the ball,” Kiffin said.  "(Arizona's) crowd was starting to leave and we were coming back to play Oregon, and we missed that play and a bunch of plays the rest of the game there."

An effective run game may have changed their fortunes against the Wildcats. Had USC been able to run the ball effectively, they wouldn't have had to rely on a home run to get them out of Tucson -- they could have iced the game on the ground.

Picking up third downs, even on the ground was problematic. The Trojans converted just 34 percent of third down opportunities in 2012 -- 102nd in the country, and that has to change.

"I hope that as we get to this season here that we are more consistent in our running game so that when we get to games like that (in Arizona), like we have over the years that we're able to finish those games out, especially on the road like that, by running the ball and being more physical," Kiffin said. "That's been a big emphasis this spring and obviously it will be a big emphasis as we move into next week."

Helping in that regard, Kiffin believes, will be running back Tre Madden. The junior suffered what Kiffin called "an under the radar” ACL injury in the spring of 2012, causing him to miss the entire season.

Kiffin says Madden, who at 6-foot, 220 pounds runs a 4.5 40-yard dash, gives USC something it hasn't had in some time.

"We feel like with the entire running back group and the fact that Tre is healthy we have that position back to where it was in that 2004, 2005 range,” Kiffin said.

Huge praise when you consider the 2004 and 2005 teams had three 1,000-yard rushers combined.