Just one week after failing to establish an effective rushing attack in their opener, the Trojans' ground game finally got rolling on Saturday in a 42-29 victory over Syracuse in East Rutherford, New Jersey -- giving coach Lane Kiffin some of the offensive balance he has been looking for.
Silas Redd led all ball-carriers with 107 yards on 15 carries against an Orange defense that allowed only two 100-yard rushers in all of 2011, while Curtis McNeal added 63 yards on 11 carries. The offensive line also showed improvement, and as a team, the Trojans averaged an impressive 7.8 yards-per-carry in accumulating 258 rushing yards – this after managing only 81 yards on the ground against Hawaii in week-one.
And while Matt Barkley's six touchdown passes and the standout performances by receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee are sure to receive the lion's share of the attention following the win, it was McNeal who seemed to kick-start the entire offense on the team's first possession of the second quarter.
With the passing game failing to click in a scoreless tie, McNeal carried the ball on three consecutive plays, taking the Trojans all the way from their own 45-yard line to the Syracuse 13-yard line. Not only did McNeal's series of runs set up a Woods touchdown reception, but they seemed to put the Orange on their heels and get the USC offense going for the rest of the game.
Kiffin and the Trojans also got creative, getting the ball to those star wide receivers out of the backfield. Lee gained 23 yards on a big fourth-down conversion run early on, while Woods ripped off a 76-yard jaunt that set up a Lee touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.
“As we talked about yesterday, we were going to need to run the ball,” Kiffin said following the game. “They were going to come to play on defense, and we had 250 yards rushing. And even though I know two of those runs come from Robert and Marqise, that's part of the run game – a lot of credit to our offensive line.”