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USC running backs set to break out this fall

USC running backs set to break out this fall

first_imgAs USC lined up for a pivotal fourth-and-two play in the fourth quarter of the 2006 Rose Bowl Game against Texas, something immediately felt very, very wrong. Reggie Bush, who had just captured the Heisman Trophy, was nowhere to be found. Bush was merely a spectator on the play. Bush’s partner in crime LenDale White plunged into the teeth of the Longhorns’ defensive line, only to be stopped shy of the marker.USC went on to lose the game 41-38.In losing what was considered by some to have been the game of the century, the Trojans were forced to step down from their perch as the kings of college football. The dynasty’s fall had begun.In addition to suffering the Rose Bowl defeat to Vince Young and company, the Trojans also had to bid a fond farewell to Bush and White — one of the finest tailback tandems the sport has ever seen.What was so bizarre about the controversy surrounding Pete Carroll’s decision to leave Bush on the sidelines on that fourth-and-two play is that White was also one of the most talented tailbacks in the country that year. Plus, the burly White was absolute money in short-yardage situations.Bush rushed for 1,740 yards during that 2005 campaign, with White not far behind with 1,302 rushing yards of his own. The two combined for over 3,700 yards from scrimmage that season, less than 100 yards away from equaling quarterback Matt Leinart’s passing total.The fact that Carroll had two tailbacks of that caliber was remarkable. A few other running back tandems in the conference’s recent history have been similarly prolific and have possessed similar star quality, perhaps most notably Oregon’s LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner in 2011. James and Barner combined for over 3,100 yards from scrimmage for Chip Kelly’s Ducks that season.What was truly special about USC’s 2005 tailback tandem, though, is that it exemplified the “smash and dash” backfield. The speed and elusiveness of Bush was breathtaking, but the human wrecking ball White was simply devastating around the goal line. Bush scored 16 rushing touchdowns during his Heisman campaign, but White found the end zone 24 times when carrying the ball.The next great Bush-White type of duo may be on the field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sept. 5 against Arkansas State.Welcome to primetime, Justin Davis and Tre Madden.Davis, a speedy junior from Stockton, California, earned his fair share of touches in 2014 as Javorius “Buck” Allen’s backup. Allen carried the load, averaging over 21 carries per game, but Davis still managed to amass nearly 600 rushing yards on the season. Davis also demonstrated his ability as a receiver emerging out of the backfield, snagging 13 receptions on the year. The six-foot-one, 195-pound Davis physically resembles Bush, who is an inch shorter and just eight pounds heavier, though Davis was only an elementary school student when the former No. 5 was juking out defenders left and right for the Trojans.Madden, meanwhile, is the same height as Davis but has some 30 pounds on his backfield partner. If Davis is the “dash,” Madden is certainly the “smash.” Madden is a hard-nosed runner capable of delivering punishing hits. Not surprisingly, Madden played linebacker during his prep days at Mission Viejo High School. That ferocity translates to his violent running style. Madden missed the entirety of the 2014 season with a turf toe injury, but he was outstanding in 2013, recording 904 yards from scrimmage and scoring seven total touchdowns. Madden is a redshirt senior who has obviously endured personal highs and lows, so he is likely beyond motivated to make plays in his final season as a Trojan.“Justin and Tre give us a two-headed monster at tailback,” head coach Steve Sarksian said. “Both are quality players who fit well in our system.”The Davis-Madden tandem could be incredibly dangerous for the same reason the Bush-White backfield was so terrifying: balance. It means balance between the ground game and the aerial attack, which should not be an issue seeing as redshirt senior quarterback Cody Kessler will command the respect of opposing defenses. It also implies a balance between smashing through defenses and dashing around them. Davis can turn a sliver of daylight into a trip to the end zone, but with an inch to pick up, Madden looks like he will be the go-to guy.This is not to say that Madden possesses a one-dimensional skillset. He may be a bruiser, but he has the quickness and the vision to be an early down back as well.Speaking of this balance, Bush logged just three more carries than White back in 2005. Running back usage is often situational. Backup running backs can still be some of the most productive and effective players in the nation, as seen with White in 2005 and Kenjon Barner in 2011.Bush and White went nearly 50-50 with their carries a decade ago, and while Davis and Madden are supposed to be engaging in a position battle this offseason, splitting the carries could be just the ticket to keeping opposing defenses honest. If USC can consistently mix it up with Davis and Madden, defensive coordinators will get headaches. This is especially the case because both guys are capable receivers, even if that means serving as Kessler’s safety valve on check-down passes.With Kessler and an excellent offensive line leading the way, Davis and Madden could explode this season.last_img read more