Physical running game key for Trojans

USC coach Lane Kiffin has made it clear that he wants to instill an increased physical presence in the USC offense in 2013, and a key factor in doing that will be an emphasis on a power run game.

For longtime USC fans, this is music to their ears. The Trojans offense in recent years, while certainly capable of putting up points and yards in bunches, has seen a reduction in the reliance on the philosophy of “big man on big man football.”

It was legendary USC player and coach Marv Goux who made that statement popular, reflecting the tough, blue collar image that defined USC football through the years. USC was known as “Tailback U” for a reason with a seemingly endless supply of quality tailbacks and a pipeline of offensive linemen that were destined for the NFL. It was a pretty good formula that served USC well for a long time.

In recent years, however, the balance of the USC offensive identity has shifted to feature the passing game more. Kiffin has a background as a quarterback who later coached wide receivers, so it’s no secret that he likes to throw the ball around. But Kiffin has always maintained that he wants to have a balanced offense that starts with the run game. You only have to look back as far as LenDale White and Reggie Bush to see how well that can work.

In his first season as head coach of the Trojans, Kiffin did run the ball more than he threw it -- 477 rush attempts to 453 passes. The last two seasons have trended the other direction; 392 rush attempts in both 2011 and 2012 compared to 447 passes in 2011 and 461 in 2012.

A case can certainly be made for throwing a little more when you have Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. But as the Trojans look back at 2012, it’s clear that a toughness mindset was missing when it came to running the football. It’s not that the Trojans didn’t run the ball well -- they averaged a solid 5.0 yards per attempt -- but they weren’t able to control the ball on the ground when they needed to. That is the danger when you get away from running the ball -- you can’t always go back to it when you really need it.

Running the football is a mentality as much as anything. It takes a commitment that starts with the play calling but ultimately rests with the players, which bodes well for the Trojans in 2013. The USC running back stable is deep and talented -- Kiffin calls it the best overall RB group he’s had at USC -- and it appears ready to go if called upon.

The leader of the group will likely be Silas Redd, the senior transfer from Penn State who led the Trojans in rushing last season. If there is one thing Redd proved in 2012, it’s that he’s a tough runner. That should come as no surprise considering his background in the Big Ten, but his physical running style was also reminiscent of USC running backs from the past. Redd underwent surgery on a torn meniscus during spring ball but is expected to be back for fall camp.

Assuming Redd is the lead ballcarrier, the competition for the primary backup spot is wide open. Right now there would be three primary candidates; Tre Madden, Justin Davis and D.J. Morgan. Madden and Morgan have battled injuries in their USC careers but each possess the kind of skills which could allow them to break out. Madden brings a power game at 225 pounds while Morgan is the speediest of the backs. Davis opened a lot of eyes in spring ball as an early enrollee with a smooth and weaving style of running that was very effective.

There will be others in the mix, as Javorius Allen was much improved this spring and Ty Isaac will arrive this fall bringing a physical element with his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame.

On top of that, the Trojans have a pair of fullbacks in Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner who will be entering their sophomore seasons while the offensive line features a veteran starting lineup and a new coach in Mike Summers who preaches toughness in the run game.

The ability to run the football as part of the offensive identity will only be one part of the Trojans' offense in 2013, but it might be the most telling in terms of overall success.