Each week, WeAreSC columnist Jeremy Hogue will answer strategy and USC team questions in this mailbag:
Q: What can the Trojans do against Syracuse to get Curtis McNeal going in the run game?
A: McNeal simply needs carries, and so does the O-line. As an offensive line, playing against a new defensive line with players you haven’t gone against before, it sometimes takes a few series before you get in a groove both individually in 1-on-1 blocking as well as blocking as a unit. But new defenses get familiar really fast when you simply get some reps and commit to the running game. As that goes, so goes McNeal. He needs some carries to get that rhythm going. His angles (pressing a hole, waiting for linebackers to flow, etc.) set up the blocking of the o-line, and it all works together. If you think of the 2011 season, he often had his most success late in games after he got several carries. That means the O-line is having success as well. McNeal will be just fine, and Kiffin wants to be more balanced. But while the Trojans may use a bit more running game than against Hawaii, I don’t know that it will be too dramatic, as the Syracuse defensive front is big and their linebackers are experienced but their secondary is young. That might be the matchup that Kiffin looks to exploit.
Q: After seeing Silas Redd in action against Hawaii, what kind of running plays do you think will work in this offense for his skills?
A: Redd seems like a great inside runner with fantastic vision and footwork and a special ability to get through and over bodies and piles (his touchdown run on Saturday was a good example). People often get frustrated watching an inside running game thinking that you are running into bodies, and want to just run the toss sweep to open space. But tackling a Silas Redd is much easier in space with no one between you and Redd as you race towards the sidelines. It is much harder to tackle a back coming through the line, as those same bodies and piles that he has a knack for getting through get in the way of linebackers and safeties. As such, the inside zone running plays USC loves are perfect for Redd, and I would expect to see some counter/trap plays as well.
Q: What did you think of Hayes Pullard at middle linebacker?
A: Pullard played a great game on Saturday and looked very comfortable at middle linebacker. I don’t know if you can judge much against Hawaii, as it doesn’t exactly mount much of an offensive threat -- especially running the ball -- but it is nevertheless a big luxury to have a linebacker like Pullard who can play all three spots (and at different times this year, he might have to). What USC has purposefully done under Kiffin is recruit speed at backer to be able to play in space against Oregon and other such offenses, and this is a little different than the bigger, more physical backers like Rey Maualuga. Pullard seems to be big enough to play middle backer and mix it up in the inside run game while still being fast and agile enough to play well in space. Whether he could do that against a Stanford or Alabama is a bit of an unknown. And make no mistake about it, a healthy Lamar Dawson will be welcomed back with open arms.