USC first year coach Steve Sarkisian utilized running back Bishop Sankey at Washington more than any other skill player for the Huskies. In 13 games played, Sankey amassed 2,174 yards of offense, gaining all but about 300 of them rushing the football.
Now with the Trojans, the question looms if Sarkisian will opt for tailback by committee or if he’ll select just one of his backs to carry a heavy load.
“The tailback position is the deepest on our team,” Sarkisian said. “We have four quality players ready to battle it out. We need this to be a strength of our team because we love to run the ball.”
Key Losses: Silas Redd (Graduation)
Losses: Ty Isaac (Transfer)
Key Returners: Javorius ‘Buck’ Allen (RS Jr.), Tre Madden (RS Jr.), Justin Davis (Soph.)
Returners: D.J. Morgan (RS Sr.)
Newcomers: Anthony Brown (RS Sr.)*
2013 Review: When USC kicked off the season Aug. 29 at Hawaii, there was a logjam atop the depth chart at the position; Madden, Redd, and Davis were all listed as co-starters, followed by Allen and Isaac.
Morgan was sidelined throughout the year due to a knee injury.
The logjam began to separate through the first half of the season not by skill, but by injury. By the end of the season, it was Allen who proved to be the last tailback standing and was listed as the Trojans No. 1 back.
Redd’s recovery from offseason knee surgery lagged, Madden battled hamstring issues, and Davis tore ligaments in his ankle halfway through the season at Notre Dame.
Allen, once fourth on the chart, led the team with 835 rushing yards in 11 games played. He had four games with over 100 yards rushing.
But if looking toward USC’s future, perhaps it’s best to look at yards per carry. While Allen proved to be a healthy workhorse, Madden and Davis averaged 7 and 6 yards more per carry when available.
Spring practices did not yield much of a fall preview, given multiple backs spent time sidelined due to injury. “I think all of our guys have a nice feel for running the football,” Sarkisian said after spring practices concluded. “I thought [Allen] and [Madden] had a nice feel for running the ball and an understanding of it.”
Davis and Morgan did not participate in spring drills. “We tried to get [Davis] as much walk-thru work as we could, because on film his running style is a bit different,” said Sarkisian.
2014 Outlook: All four of USC’s tailbacks appear healthy and ready to compete for the starting job when fall camp opens Aug. 4.
If gauging from experience and ability to stay healthy, Allen is likely to earn the starting job – though even the 2013 team MVP found himself sidelined during portions of spring practices due to injury.
But the athletic ability and potential flashed by Davis during his freshman campaign won’t be able to be ignored during his second year - if he bounces back from his ankle injury.
Sarkisian has Allen and Madden listed as co-starters entering fall camp.
The move of fifth-year player Anthony Brown from cornerback to tailback should provide extra depth for the Trojans throughout fall camp. Brown was recruited to USC as a tailback by former coach Pete Carroll; the move back to the position is one Brown lobbied for. However, in his final season of eligibility and returning from injury, it may be an uphill battle for him to crack the rotation.
While Sarkisian won on the legs of Sankey at Washington, expect the first-year coach to utilize all of his healthy backs on Saturdays at USC. “It’s a nice group of guys,” said Sarkisian. “They are all very bright.”
*Brown is a fifth-year player at USC, but a newcomer to the tailback position for the Trojans