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USC football: Restarting the USC running game

Allen Bradford went into last Saturday’s game at the then-No. 16 Stanford at the height of his lengthy, eventful and sometimes tumultuous college career.

The fifth-year senior was the Trojans’ starting tailback for only the second game – ever — and for only the first game in which he wasn’t No. 1 because Joe McKnight was Emerald Bowl ineligible. Bradford earned the spot after several weeks of strong, north-south running, culminating in his Oct.2 career-high 223-yard performance against Washington and his 9.8 yards per carry leading the Pac-10.

Then came the 37-35 loss to the Cardinal. The Trojans’ power-running game stalled, prompting play-calling Coach Lane Kiffin to abandon it early for QB Matt Barkley’s hot hand. Seven Trojans combined to net 108 yards on 28 attempts (3.9 ypc), with Bradford running himself into the ground with just 33 yards on 13 carries (2.5 ypc.)

Fellow tailbacks Marc Tyler (three carries, 11 yards), Dillon Baxter (four carries, 22 yards) didn’t fare much better on a night when Barkley (five carries, 33 yards) tied Bradford for the team high in rushing.

Too bad Bradford & Co. are facing Cal at the Coliseum on a Saturday when the usually impressive corps (213.3 ypg, 3rd in Pac-10) wants to get its legs back. Kiffin said Cal’s defense has “a lot of similarites” to Stanford’s. Also, the Golden Bears boast the Pac-10’s second-best rushing defense (106.0, 21st nationally).

“I’ve been watching a lot of film and trying to figure out what they (the Golden Bears) do,” said Bradford, who ranks sixth in rushing in the Pac-10 (88.8 ypg) and still owns the league’s best average per carry (8.3 ypc). “I think I found something.”

Bradford noticed how Colorado running back Rodney Stewart in the Buffaloes’ 52-7 loss to Cal on Sept. 11 “wasn’t patient when he got the ball and just kept running at the line and making cuts without waiting for it to open,” he said.

“He (Stewart) was just cutting back, but if I think if I just stay on track and be just a little bit more patient, I can get to the second level, get the blocks and go,” said Bradford.

Stewart finished with 80 yards on 29 carries (2.8 average) but he is far from being the only running back stunted by the Golden Bears:

** Arizona’s top rusher, Nic Grigsby, was limited to 65 yards on 12 carries on Sept. 25.

** UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin was held well below his 125.0 ypg average this past Saturday (Oct. 9) against Cal, which limited the Bruin to 54 yards on 13 carries (and that included a 31-yard gain).

The best rushing success story against Cal came on Sept. 17 at gunpoint – um, against the pistol offense of Nevada, which won, 52-31. QB Colin Kaepernick rushed 17 times for 148 yards and three TDs and RB Vai Taua had 25 carries for 151 yards and a TD.

The quick and explosive qualities of the pistol offense would be hard for the Trojans to recreate on short notice, especially since they will likely be without freshman tailback Baxter, who had his injured left foot/toes in a special shoe and needed crutches to get around on Thursday.

“Cal will be a challenge,” said Bradford. “But every team has a weakness.”




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