Sophomore running back Aca'Cedric Ware had enjoyed seeing his family and friends at the hotel. He dad had visited. His uncle too. And he knew he would see them after USC’s matchup with Alabama in his “home stadium” of AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
First, he wanted to put on a show for everyone that was attending the game and everyone else in his nearby hometown of Cedar Hill, Texas that was watching on television.
Being the No. 3 rusher on the depth chart behind Justin Davis and Ronald Jones II, who nearly both rushed for 1000 yards last season, doesn’t lend itself to very many carries in a season, much less a season opener against the defending national champion and No. 1 Crimson Tide. But Ware presented a different dynamic that the Trojans would need.
“I'm more of a physical runner than the other two,” Ware said. “Justin, he's an explosive cutter. Ronald is just fast as heck. And I love…I love contact. That's my thing.”
Going against the physicality of the Alabama defense, the Trojans needed someone that could break through an arm tackle, so the coaching staff had a special three-receiver, two-back set for Ware. Already up 3-0 and driving into Alabama territory on the second drive of the game, USC called Ware’s number on 1st-and-10 from the 35-yard line.
He carried the ball to the outside. Linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton shot through unblocked. Ware sidestepped him, but was hit immediately and stuffed at the line of scrimmage with nowhere to go.
In the second quarter, USC motioned Ware into the backfield and ran the same play to the other side. This time, monster defensive lineman Jonathan Allen goes right by an injured Chuma Edoga, who left the game and did not return a play later. Ware calmly sidestepped Allen and exploded toward the hole where he was hit from the side by a linebacker. He had built on his first carry, gaining two yards this time.
“Alabama, they have a great defense. That was the No. 1 run stop defense in the nation,” Ware said. “It was exciting to play against those guys. When I got the ball, I seen them, but I had to make them miss. That's the job of running backs. Set the tone. Make them miss.”
Ware wasn’t used again until the third quarter. After a pitch to Jones failed to pick up a first down on 2nd-and-1, Ware was brought in to pick up two yards. This time, the line gave him a bit of a crease and he busted through the right guard gap for six yards. USC went right back to him and he picked up another six yards on the next play, breaking senior defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson’s arm tackle at the line of scrimmage.
Running backs coach Tommie Robinson talks to sophomore Aca'Cedric Ware after a spring practice.
By the time the Trojans put Ware back in the game, the final tallies were already on the scoreboard. Again needing two yards for a first down, Ware took another carry to the right side. He got to the line of scrimmage unabated, but a linebacker was waiting for him in the small hole the offensive line created. Ware didn’t make the linebacker miss, but sidestepped his initial point of attack and was able to fall forward for a three-yard gain and a first down.
The next play, the offensive line got a small semi-circle of push up the middle and Ware burst to the line of scrimmage and then cut behind center Nico Falah, picking up five more yards to finish his 2016 debut with 22 yards on six carries that included three broken tackles.
“Every time my name was called, I took advantage of my opportunities,” Ware said. “I proved out there that I can play. I can get out there and I know what I'm doing. I'm not going to hesitate. I can play fast.”
Of the three primary backs, the offense was most productive when Ware was in the game, gaining 3.8 yards on the eight snaps he participated in. Ware thinks his performance showed the coaching staff that he deserves to be a part of the game plan going forward.
“It’s all up to the coaching staff…but I feel like they have faith in me.”
After the game, Ware embraced his family. Though the lopsided score didn’t show his efforts, he had proven himself, not only to the coaching staff, but to everyone missing him back in Texas.
“It was a good experience. I got to spend a lot of time with them. I missed those people. It was good. They'll be out here this weekend for the Utah State game, so I won't miss them too much.”
Another opportunity to show out.
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