USC Trojans: Buck Allen

WeAreSC roundtable: Biggest test at Utah?

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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1. Was the Colorado win the breakout game the USC offense was looking for?

Garry Paskwietz: It was definitely the most dynamic game of the season, and I think a lot of USC fans -- and coach Steve Sarkisian -- would describe that dynamic element as the biggest missing piece of the offense to this point so by that standard you can say it was a breakout kind of game. You had Cody Kessler with his school-record seven touchdowns, you had a pair of running backs around the 100-yard mark and a pair of receivers who broke the 100-yard mark. That's a pretty good offensive night no matter who the opponent.

Johnny Curren: I think Colorado certainly was the breakout game that the USC offense was looking for. After all, just about everything clicked for Sarkisian & Co. Kessler threw for a school-record seven touchdowns, and both Buck Allen and Justin Davis shined on the ground. Still, it's important to take into account the fact it all happened against a Colorado defensive unit that has struggled throughout much of 2014. Because of that, I'm more interested to see if the USC offense can continue to find success against Utah this weekend, as well as through the rest of the schedule. If the offense does continue to perform at a high level, however, I think that everyone will point to the Colorado game as the moment when everything first came together.

Greg Katz: Yes, in terms of showing against a weak defense that the Trojans' offense can be balanced and the passing game can be vertical. We'll find out this Saturday night at Utah if the balanced offense the Trojans showcased on homecoming will be the same we see in Salt Lake City. A word of caution: The opener against Fresno State, with all its offensive fireworks, was an anomaly to a certain extent to what the rest of the season has been prior to playing Colorado.

2. What will be the biggest test on the road this week against Utah?

Garry Paskwietz: Keeping pressure off Kessler. The Trojans' young offensive line has shown growth in the run game lately, now they will get a test against a formidable pass rush that comes early and often. Sarkisian said the Utes' M.O. is to get after the quarterback, and with a nation-leading 5.5 sacks per game, it's pretty obvious that they do it well.

Johnny Curren: I think that the Trojans' biggest test will come up front on offense, as the USC offensive line is set to go up against an extremely talented Utah front seven that has the Utes currently ranking No. 1 nationally in both sacks (5.5 per game) and tackles for loss (10.2 per game). There's no denying the fact that Tim Drevno's young group has made tremendous strides as of late, but they're going to need to come up with their best performance yet in this one.

Greg Katz: To be able to match and sustain the physical aspect that Utah will bring on both offense (rushing) and defense (QB sacking). The Trojans showed at Arizona that they can survive in a major hostile environment. Utah could be the toughest test of the season thus far.

3. Will Allen end up in New York as a Heisman finalist this year?

Garry Paskwietz: To paraphrase a line from "Dumb and Dumber," I'm saying there's a chance. There is a pretty good group at the top of the Heisman pecking order that Buck would need to crack but if he can maintain his per game average, he would end the season with roughly 1,600 rushing yards and that would be a hard candidate to keep away from the Big Apple. There is certainly a long way to go before that can happen and a lot that would need to fall in the right direction but Buck has done his part to give himself a chance.

Johnny Curren: I do think Allen will end up as a Heisman finalist this year, primarily because he just seems to keep getting better and better. He's running with so much confidence right now, and he's so talented not only as a rusher, but also as a receiver. I think that his final numbers at the end of the regular season are going to be really impressive. Of course, one thing that will certainly play a part is what kind of record the Trojans have when it's all said and done. If they keep winning, he's going to start getting a lot more media attention. If they don't, his accomplishments risk getting buried.

Greg Katz: It all depends how he plays against UCLA and more importantly Notre Dame. Ask me today and I say, "No." Buck is having a wonderful season and will be rewarded come NFL draft time. However, he has not been given the preseason publicity push needed to be in the mix.
As the Trojans continue their supposed search for an offensive identity, it's becoming more and more clear that the identity is being revealed in the form of Buck Allen.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriBuck Allen is turning out to be just the type of offensive playmaker the Trojans need this season.
If Steve Sarkisian wants an offense based upon run-first, physical football, why look anywhere else besides Allen, who has been the most consistent offensive performer for the Trojans this season. You want toughness? Throw on the film of his run in the fourth quarter last Saturday night where he basically carried a pair of Arizona defenders on his back for an additional 18 yards at the end of a run. You could do a lot worse as a coach than to have an identity based upon that kind of effort.

If you want to look at sheer production, Allen has rushed for over 100 yards in five of the six USC games, the only time he didn't hit the 100-yard mark was against Boston College, which also happened to be the only game he has carried the ball less than 20 times this year. His 781 rushing yards leads the Pac-12 and is No. 11 in the nation, and he has scored seven touchdowns while averaging 130.2 yards per game.

"I'm just trying to be an all-around back right now," said Allen, who set a career-high against Arizona with 205 rushing yards. "Coach Sark puts me in the right position to make plays and I'm just trying to make the best of it but it's not just me. I try to stay positive for the players around me, I want to make sure my teammates are feeding off my energy."

It's really only been a year since Allen emerged as a full-time member of the Trojans' backfield and his rise has been as quick as one of his slashing moves. In the last 12 games, Allen has surpassed the 100-yard mark nine times, and if he keeps this up it won't be long before he starts to emerge as more of a name on the national scene. Allen is on pace to rush for over 1,500 yards this season and the last time the Trojans had a running back put up those kind of numbers was Reggie Bush in 2005 with 1,740.

Allen prepared himself well for this role in the offseason by bulking up and becoming more of a vocal leader. He worked on his pass blocking and continues to be a very good receiver, he is currently No. 2 on the Trojans with 23 catches for 278 yards. He has emerged as the dependable option at a position that could have been a committee approach, but Tre Madden has been out with turf toe and Justin Davis has been steadily getting his form back after returning from a 2013 ankle injury.

"I see a very appreciative young man who has overcome a lot to get to this point," Sarkisian said of Allen. "I didn't know he was such a good receiver but I've always thought he was a guy who could hit that 1,500-yard rushing mark and head for post-season accolades. I'm thankful we have him."

An offensive identity built around Allen would also fit well with what is going on with the Trojans' offensive line, an inexperienced group that has been learning on the go, but one of the things they have improved on lately is run blocking. Over the past three games in particular there has been a commitment to running the ball in the second half that will help develop the mindset of what it takes to finish out games on the ground, and nothing is more important to that strategy than the presence of Allen in the center of those efforts.

"I think it's a case of our young kids on the line are starting to pick up the offense and Buck is trusting them more," USC running backs coach Johnny Nansen said. "Buck needs to continue building on that relationship and that will lead to more big runs from him in the future."

USC roundtable: Impact, battles and more 

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
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The WeAreSC staffers discuss various topics related to the opening of USC Trojans fall camp practices next Monday.

Who will have the biggest camp impact? (offense/defense)

Garry Paskwietz: Steve Sarkisian says this will be a physical run-first offense and that should mean plenty of opportunities for Buck Allen to establish himself early as a critical piece of the system. The reigning Trojans MVP is in great shape and appears ready for that kind of role. On defense, Leonard Williams may be the most talented and Hayes Pullard is the most productive -- but in terms of impact, I'm going to go with Su'a Cravens. His athleticism should allow for him to make a lot of plays.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesThe Trojans' offense will run through quarterback Cody Kessler and tailback Javorius "Buck" Allen.
Johnny Curren: On offense, I'm going to go with Allen. The fourth-year junior tailback is in fantastic shape right now, and with Sarkisian showing a real desire to pound the ball on the ground, he should get plenty of chances to shine. On defense, Williams is the one to watch. Close to 100 percent after undergoing offseason surgery on his shoulder, there's every reason to believe he'll have an even bigger 2014 campaign than his season of 2013, when he garnered ESPN.com first-team All-America honors.

Greg Katz: Cody Kessler on offense. The Trojans' offense may have more explosive players, but the system doesn't work unless Kessler works, and he has been relentless in not only learning Sark's no-huddle, fast-paced offense but executing it and teaching others. Williams on defense. Teammates of the "Big Cat" know he played with pain in his shoulder last season and was never 100 percent. In the summer, however, it was darn scary just how must quicker and intense he was during voluntary workouts.

What will be the best position battle?

Paskwietz: The Trojans enter camp with no clear-cut starter at left guard and as many as four candidates for the job. The one veteran in the mix is Jordan Simmons, but he is coming off knee surgery last fall. The other three possibilities are all true freshmen in Toa Lobendahn, Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama. All are extremely talented, but all will be taking part in their first fall camp practices as Trojans, though Lobendahn did participate in spring drills.

Curren: I'm tempted to say the battle at Sam linebacker between Jabari Ruffin and Quinton Powell, but after seeing J.R. Tavai shine throughout the summer workouts, I'll go with the competition between he and Scott Starr at rush end. Both performers are excellent athletes who play physical and fast to the ball off the edge, and I look forward to watching them bring out the best in each other in fall camp.

Katz: Because of the importance of both offensive guard positions, one would have to lump this as a critical unit position battle. Whether starting senior right guard Aundrey Walker, coming off an ankle injury, and Simmons, coming off of a knee injury, at left guard can be physically in shape and hold up to the pace of the offense remains in question. What isn't in question are the true freshmen O-liners such as Lobendahn, who is a well advanced talent despite his inexperience.

Who will be the surprise player of camp?

Paskwietz: It's hard to call Adoree' Jackson a surprise player in anything when you consider he was the highest-rated recruit in this USC class. The surprise will come, however, in just how good he will be from the word go. And I'm not talking just at one spot, he will make a case for playing time on offense, defense and special teams.

Curren: I really liked what I saw out of Leon McQuay III, both in the spring as well as this past summer. He's going to really open some eyes in his role as the starting free safety. Having bulked up considerably since his freshman season, he's also played with a new level of confidence over the past six months.

Roundtable: Future award winners

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
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With many postseason awards coming out with their watch lists, here are our thoughts on which members of the USC football team are most likely to win the following awards at some point in their career.

Heisman Trophy

Garry Paskwietz: Javorius "Buck" Allen. Every so often there is an aura around a player when he is “the man,” and Allen has that right now with the Trojans. The players knew what he could do before he got his chance, and they know how special he was once he finally got on the field. He has bulked up in preparation of carrying a bigger load, and he has the combination of quickness as a runner and good pass-catching ability to put up huge numbers.

[+] EnlargeUSC
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesJavorius "Buck" Allen had four 100-yard rushing efforts in USC's final six games in 2013.
Johnny Curren: Allen. After breaking out over the second half of the 2013 season, Allen looks to be in even better physical shape this summer. And as everyone saw last year with Bishop Sankey at Washington, Sarkisian’s offense definitely provides the opportunity for a tailback to put up big numbers.

Greg Katz: Allen. If Sark gets the same type of production out of Allen that he did with Sankey at Washington and the Trojans do well, the Florida native has a chance at the big one.

Davey O'Brien Award

GP: Max Browne. With all due respect to Cody Kessler, who I believe is the right quarterback for the Trojans right now, I think it is Browne who has the best chance to eventually achieve this kind of national honor. Max has very good throwing skills when it comes to touch and accuracy, and he is only building on those while he is waiting his turn.

JC: Kessler. After showing promise last year during a tumultuous season, Kessler has the potential to thrive in 2014 while directing an up-tempo offense that figures to really rack up yardage while also putting up more points.

GK: Browne. Kessler will have a fine career, but when Browne finally steps in with knowledge of the new offense, watch out.

Doak Walker Award

GP: Allen. He has the total package to be in the mix.

JC: Allen. Again, with what he’s show as of late, Allen just might find himself in the running for this award, either in 2014 or 2015.

GK: Allen. If “Buck” continues to improve dramatically and the Trojans’ offensive line can improve each game, Allen could become a national household name.

Biletnikoff Award

GP: Nelson Agholor: One of the key traits that Agholor inherited from Robert Woods and Marqise Lee was preparation, and his work ethic set the tone for the Trojans in spring ball. When you combine that with his game-breaking ability, this award is certainly within his reach.

JC: Agholor. After waiting his turn behind both Woods and Lee, Agholor is the featured wideout at USC now, and it’s a role that he’s more than ready to take on. Having led the team with 918 receiving yards in 2013, he already has proven himself on the field, and now with more passes coming his way, he could really explode in 2014.

GK: Agholor. He can be just as explosive as Lee, in his own way. It’s a matter of consistency and his quarterback.

Mackey Award

GP: Bryce Dixon. He comes to USC with the ability to be a unique athlete at the tight spot. He reminds me a little of former Trojan Mackey Award winner Fred Davis. Maybe not as powerful as Davis but a similar kind of pass-catching weapon.

JC: Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick. Cope-Fitzpatrick had an outstanding spring, catching virtually everything thrown in his direction. Whether it’s this year or next, he just might have the ability to light up the stat sheet in an offense that allowed Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who won this award in 2013, to really flourish at Washington.

GK: Dixon. This kid has the potential to be someone special at tight end. If he can block as well as he can catch and run, he could leave Troy as one of the great ones.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsDefensive end Leonard Williams posted 73 tackles and six sacks last season.
Outland Trophy

GP: Leonard Williams. I am starting to look at Williams the way I looked at Shaun Cody in the middle of the USC D-line. Just a special talent who raised the level of play around him and was a great teammate while doing it. I wouldn’t put any limits on what he can accomplish next year.

JC: Williams. Predicted by many to be a top-10 pick in next year’s NFL draft, there’s little doubt that Williams is one of the top linemen in all of college football. It will be interesting to see just how much further he can take his game in the coming months, and if he continues to make strides, this is an award that is definitely within reach.

GK: Williams. The stars are all aligned for Williams to achieve a lineman’s highest honor. Only one Trojan has done it before (OL Ron Yary, 1967) and if Leonard takes this award he’ll always be remembered as one of the legendary Trojans defensive linemen.

Lombardi Award

GP: Viane Talamaivao. You don’t find too many offensive linemen with this combination of size, strength and athleticism. Viane has taken reps at center and both guards spots so far in summer workouts and has looked comfortable in each setting so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some early contributions this year.

JC: Williams. Again, if it all comes together for Williams on the field in 2014, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see honor after honor come his way.

GK: Max Tuerk. The combination of brains, brawn and nasty to go along with his experience puts Max in a position to be only the second Trojan to win the award. If Tuerk can produce like former Trojans Lombardi winner OG Brad Budde (1979), he stands a shot.

Butkus Award

GP: Hayes Pullard. As a productive three-year starter, Pullard is on the verge of putting together one of the more impressive statistical careers we’ve ever seen from a USC linebacker -- and that is saying something. As the unquestioned leader of a group that could be very good this year, he has a chance to get the kind of spotlight needed for the award.

JC: Pullard. Having led the Trojans in tackles in two of the past three seasons, Pullard has already established himself as one of the conference’s top linebackers.

GK: Pullard. There is something about Pullard from one season to another that seems to cry out for recognition. Hayes is a preseason All-American and should the Trojans defense live up to expectations, Pullard will be having a whale of a season.

Thorpe Award

GP: Su'a Cravens. I’m going to go with Cravens on this one, and the main reason I pick him ahead of Leon McQuay III or Adoree’ Jackson (aside from his overwhelming physical skills) is primarily because I think Su’a has a head start and would be the first of the three to win. All three are capable, but I can see Cravens bursting on the national scene this year and setting the stage for a strong run at the award in 2015.

JC: Jackson. I know, I know… way too early to be talking about big-time honors for a player who has yet to take a snap in college. But from what I saw of him on the high school level, as well as in the early workouts at USC this summer, Jackson is a uniquely talented athlete who has the potential to do some special things at USC.

GK: Cravens. The second coming of Ronnie Lott/Troy Polamalu? It would be hard to say that Cravens didn’t live up to all the hype in his freshman season. Yes, he got injured and that slowed his progress, but he showed enough stuff to warrant great expectations. If he did what he did as a true freshman, what’s he going to look like as a junior?

Most important player: USC

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
9:15
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All players are equal, but some players are more equal than others. That's the basis of our Most Important Players series.

First off, quarterbacks are excluded to make things more interesting. It goes without saying, for example, that Marcus Mariota is Oregon's most important player.

And most important doesn't necessarily have to be "best." An All-American's backup can be pretty darn good, too. USC’s Leonard Williams might be the best defensive lineman in the nation, but is he the Trojans' most important player considering the talent and depth on their D-line?

Our most important guys are players who could swing a win total one way or the other, based on them living up to expectations. Or their absence.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsNelson Agholor figures to improve on his six TD receptions from 2013.
USC: WR Nelson Agholor

2013 production: He caught 56 passes for 918 yards and six touchdowns. Agholor also returned 18 punts for 343 yards and a pair of touchdowns (19.1 average) and 10 kickoffs for 175 yards (17.5 average).

Why Agholor is important: This was a tough one, because there are a lot of players who could be (and are) difference-makers for the Trojans, be it Agholor, the aforementioned Williams, Randall Telfer, Hayes Pullard, Buck Allen, Max Tuerk, Su'a Cravens, etc.

But like Stanford’s Most Important Player, Ty Montgomery, Agholor is the type of player who can change a game on offense and on special teams. With his sure hands and twin V-12 engines … err … feet, Agholor posted the nation’s second-best punt return average with 19.1 yards. He also tied a Pac-12 record with two punt returns for touchdowns against Cal -- including a 93-yard return, which was the second-longest in school history.

Who plays opposite Agholor might still be up for grabs, with Darreus Rogers, Victor Blackwell and George Farmer (yeah, remember him?) among others in the mix.

So is it the running game that opens up the passing game? Or is it the other way around? With a burner like Agholor racing up and down the sidelines, he’s certainly going to draw the extra attention of safeties who might otherwise be focused on the box. And most reports out of USC’s spring session (including the practices witnessed by the Pac-12 blog) saw Agholor emerge as the team’s hardest-working player and team leader. Not a bad thing to have when transitioning to a new head coach. Doesn’t hurt that he was tutored by Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.

You could make a case for a lot of other players. And you'd be right. But with a potential Biletnikoff winner in Agholor, you certainly can't go wrong.

Other Most Important Players:
LOS ANGELES -- When the Los Angeles Dodgers had their Clayton Kershaw and Yasiel Puig bobblehead nights this season, I was as big a fan as any to take the freebies and put them up in my second-floor ballpark room.

[+] EnlargeYasiel Puig bobblehead
Icon SMIYasiel Puig bobblehead night got Greg Katz thinking along the same lines for the Trojans' upcoming schedule.
Well, it got me to thinking: What if the USC Trojans did a 2014 bobblehead promotion for each home football game and their road-game opponents also paid tribute to Troy with their own bobblehead salute?


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It was a busy week for USC football with one player transferring and two high school verbals, along with the upcoming Oakland Nike Camp.

The news that tailback Ty Isaac was going to transfer came out of the blue. The word from the Isaac family is that Ty’s mother, Karen, has issues with flying due to ear surgery and that was going to make it tough for the family to watch him play in the future.

Isaac will look at schools such as Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern and Illinois, but it’s not clear right now if Notre Dame will be on that list. The Irish were one of the schools that Isaac considered coming out of high school. The Trojans did not include Notre Dame on the list of schools he was released to, but there are questions about the timing of the release which could allow Isaac to transfer to any school.


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Spring ball can often be a time of experimentation with personnel decisions and schematic changes, but first-year USC coach Steve Sarkisian has also brought a unique approach to his teaching methods.

Among the areas that Sarkisian wanted to emphasize this spring for the Trojans was an immediate introduction to the up-tempo style, the installation of new schemes on both sides of the ball and the desire to have any injured player healthy by the time fall camp rolls around in August.

With the new up-tempo style, the Trojans are running more plays in practice. They ran 120 on the first day of spring compared to an average of 80 or so per day during the Pete Carroll era. There are quotas in place for each period of how many plays need to be run and there is no stoppage between plays to huddle with the coaches -- it is a game-time environment where things are moving at all times.

For the installations, Sarkisian is using walk-through teaching periods as a key element of his plan. The timing of these periods is also designed to mimic game conditions, as a game is a series of high-paced plays followed by working with a coach on the sidelines to review what took place on the field.

“We don’t have time to critique our players between plays, and it’s designed that way,” Sarkisian said. “That’s why you see the walk-through periods at different stages during practice. Most people do that teaching before practice but we break them up into three periods within practice and we call them teaching periods. We take the time to try and fix some of the errors that we saw during the team periods. It’s a little different way of teaching but I think it’s a way to grab the players' attention and I think they respond to it well.”

There are also morning walk-throughs before each practice, which can feature as many as 100 plays in each session.

"The coaches are doing a great job with walk-throughs and meetings,” USC tailback Javorius “Buck” Allen said. “With a walk-through in the morning we're able to fix mistakes for practice that afternoon. A lot of guys learn better in that setting and it translates quickly to the field.”

Getting that kind of teaching done when installing a new offense and a new defense is critical. One bonus that comes with it is the ability to allow the injured players to be more involved, both mentally and physically, in the walk-through portions of practice.

"I think our communication is much better, especially defensively. We've put in a lot of offense and a lot of defense and those two things mashing together can be challenging," Sarkisian said. "I think we are really benefiting from the walk-throughs, one, at practice, but two, the 20 guys that can't practice right now are getting such valuable reps."

With the USC roster numbers still somewhat limited during the final year of NCAA sanctions, this approach by Sarkisian is a good example of the former quarterback evaluating his options and developing a plan to accomplish his goals for spring.

Trojans are deep at tailback

February, 13, 2014
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After the fax machines stopped rolling and the ink was dry on national signing day, USC first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian, when discussing the merits of the 2014 recruiting class, made a point of stating that his staff intentionally did not recruit a running back.

Naturally, given the roster strength of the 2014 running back depth chart, this didn’t exactly come as a surprise. But it was recognition that of all those question marks heading into spring ball, the young men who carry the football aren’t an issue.

Sarkisian also reminded Trojans followers that despite the change in offensive formations, his philosophy on offense is to first having a power running game complemented by a balanced passing attack.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiBuck Allen is poised to be the leading tailback for USC.
There’s no position more identified or glorified in college football than the USC running back, or “tailback” as it is commonly referred. Legendary USC Hall of Fame coach John McKay created the modern era Trojans running game philosophy with the spotlight on the tailback and things haven’t significantly changed over the decades.

During McKay’s tenure, he believed the best ball carrier should be given the ball repeatedly and justified it with such immortal quotes as “It’s [the ball’s] not heavy,” and “he [the tailback] doesn’t belong to a union.”

One look at the Trojans' 2014 tailback depth chart and it appears to be a proverbial embarrassment of riches. Of the tailbacks returning, each has already been given the opportunity to carry the ball and has shown through styles of their own that they could probably start for most universities in the country.

About the only thing that has separated this collection of standout tailbacks has been injuries. As one talented tailback went down in 2013, another took his place without much of a hiccup.

Sophomores Javorius “Buck” Allen and Tre Madden, freshmen Justin Davis and Ty Isaac, and junior D.J. Morgan all return in 2014. About the only thing that separates most them all at this point, besides the brilliance of Allen’s second half of the season, is rehabilitation from injuries sustained during last season.

The healthy spotlight returner heading into spring practice is Allen, the 2013 team MVP whose rise to the prestigious heights of a starting USC tailback was both remarkable and heartwarming.

Allen, who seemed buried in Lane Kiffin’s pecking order last season, was given a chance when Kiffin was fired after the Arizona State debacle. Ed Orgeron handed over the tailback decisions to former running backs coach Tommie Robinson, who thought Allen was the best option in a recommitted power-oriented offense.

Naturally, Sarkisian hasn’t said how he plans to use his assortment of tailbacks. Will it be one featured back like Sarkisian’s former All-American at the University of Washington, Bishop Sankey, or tailback by committee? This decision will be part of many spring ball questions to be answered, but the truth probably lies with the fact that the actual running back rotation order probably won’t be decided until fall practice, when there are more healthy bodies available for scrimmaging.

Unless there is a shocking development in spring, it’s likely that junior-to-be Allen, who will probably be named to some preseason All-Pac-12 lists, will head into fall camp as the Trojans No. 1 running back. However, Sarkisian and running backs coach Johnny Nansen need to show some semblance of credibility when they say all positions are open, which should bring out the best in all the available tailbacks in the spring.

And since the Trojans didn’t recruit a tailback in the class of 2014, those potential running back recruits for the class of 2015 will also be paying close attention to how Sarkisian and Nansen use their backs this season.

So, the implementation of the new- or old-school philosophy of the USC tailback under Sarkisian is just a plethora of spring handoffs away, and it begs an answer to a tantalizing question: Is Sark a one-tailback, “old school” professor, or is he a multi-tailbacks, “new school” professor when it comes to Tailback U?
We're looking at some of the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2013.

Up next: Nelson Aghol-oh my gosh he did it again.

Agholor
Agholor
Who and against whom: USC WR/PR Nelson Agholor had a monster special teams performance in the Trojans’ 62-28 win over California.

The numbers: The Trojans matched an NCAA record by returning three punts for touchdowns in the game. One came off a block, the other two were of the traditional variety with Agholor returning Cal’s first punt 75 yards for a touchdown. He did it again in the second quarter, this time from 93 yards out. He finished with 168 return yards (a healthy average of 84 yards per return) and added four catches for 35 yards.

A closer look: On Tuesday we honored Oregon’s Bralon Addison for returning a pair of punts for scores against Cal. It’s only fair to return the favor to Agholor. And Cal, if it feels like we’re beating up on your special teams a little bit, our apologies. But then again, stop giving up multiple returns for touchdowns in games. Buck Allen gets a tip of the cap as well for his 135 yards on six carries and two touchdowns (22.5 yards per carry … dang!). But it was Agholor who opened the scoring with a 75-yard punt return after the Trojans stopped Cal’s first drive. His second score came before the half with the Trojans already leading 35-14 (Josh Shaw had already returned a block punt for USC’s second special teams touchdown of the game). This one went for 93 yards to give the Trojans an insurmountable 41-14 lead at the break. The last team to return three punts for touchdowns was when Oklahoma's Antonio Perkins did it against UCLA in 2003.

Nansen new tailback caretaker

January, 19, 2014
Jan 19
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LOS ANGELES -- When a university has had as much running back tradition and success as the University of Southern California, there’s also going to be interest in the running backs coach, a major focal point when former Washington Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian was named the new USC head coach in early December.

Naming a new running backs coach wasn’t really a challenge for Sarkisian. He simply brought with him from the University of Washington former Huskies running backs coach Johnny Nansen, 39, who grew up in Long Beach and calls his return to the Southland “a dream come true.”

The real challenge for Nansen was restoring the credibility of former USC running backs coach Tommie Robinson, who in just one season had gained a tremendous amount of admiration, respect and love from the Trojans running backs. When Robinson wasn’t retained by Sarkisian and was later hired at the University of Texas under new Longhorns coach Charlie Strong, there appeared to be a rather large credibility gap.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesBuck Allen had four 100-yard rushing performances in USC's final six games.
Nansen’s credibility strictly as a running backs coach might not be his biggest issue. After all, in 2013, Nansen mentored UW All-American, Doak Walker finalist and first-team All-Pac-12 running back Bishop Sankey, who was among the nation’s leading rushers.

No, Nansen’s real challenge is gaining the trust and interpersonal relationships that flourished under Robinson, especially with a former fourth-stringer named Javorius Allen, who became the Trojans’ 2013 team MVP under Robinson’s guidance.

So how does Nansen plan to go about selling himself to Allen and his running back mates and repairing their broken hearts after Robinson’s departure?

“Obviously, you have to get to know the players and spend some time with them,” Nansen said. “They have to understand your philosophy. We’re all different coaches in what we believe in. The kids have to buy into your philosophy, and that’s really where you start off at.”

Ah, yes, a new running backs philosophy. There is, however, the old saying that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But Nansen thinks he can present a philosophy that will help in the coaching transition.

“It’s about having fun and having the kids believe in the little things you teach, not only on the football field but outside of the field,” Nansen said. “I think once they understand and grasp that, you’ll see them starting to perform at a high level, which is expected here at SC.”

Upon officially assuming the role of running backs coach, Nansen knew he had to bridge the gap with Allen. “Buck” was admittedly stung by the departure of not only his mentor Robinson but also former interim head coach Ed Orgeron, who gave Robinson the OK to play Allen extensively and the rest, of course, is history.

After the Trojans’ exhilarating victory over Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Allen admittedly gave some serious thought into entering the NFL draft. However, gaining his diploma, increasing his marketability, getting some good advice, and giving Nansen a chance eventually won out, and No. 37 will return in 2014.

“Man, he’s a unique kid and I love him,” Nansen said. “Since I’ve taken over this job, he’s been around and we’ve spent a lot of time together. I am fired up. I did get to watch the bowl game, and he’s a special player.”

By no means has Nansen forgotten the other talented running backs he will instruct come spring ball in early March. One such talent is freshman Justin Davis, who is recovering from ankle surgery.

“I know Justin real well,” Nansen said. “We recruited him when we were at Washington. He’s a great young man and comes from a great family. He’s a hard worker and a very talented back. He’s very similar to a back I had a year ago at Washington in Bishop Sankey.”

Nansen also will have at his disposal the likes of gifted sophomore Tre Madden, a power back who’s also coming off the injury list. When healthy, Madden has repeatedly shown signs of physical dominance. Then there is also junior speedster D.J. Morgan, who also has given glimpses of explosiveness when he, too, hasn’t been in the infirmary.

There had been fears that fullbacks Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner might be passÚ in Sarkisian’s up-tempo, no-huddle, shotgun offense. Both Nansen and Sarkisian recently said that they have great respect for Vainuku and Pinner, and there will still be a vital place for the fullback in the Trojans’ 2014 offensive system.

Ah, yes, the new system. Just how difficult will it be for Nansen’s backs to learn the new system, even though, according to Sarkisian, it’s still a run-first, power-oriented attack?

“I don’t think the system has changed from what they have done here,” Nansen said. “It’s the verbiage that we’ve changed. We were talking with the players yesterday, and they were picking it up and rolling with it. I am looking forward to it.”

And so, eagerly, are Trojans fans, expecting Nansen to maintain the tradition and expectations at storied Tailback U.
LOS ANGELES -- Steve Sarkisian hasn’t been back at USC long -- just over six weeks to be exact -- but as he spoke to a gathering of reporters inside the John McKay Center on Tuesday afternoon, it became apparent that the new head coach certainly isn’t tempering his optimism.

“We’ve got a plenty talented roster to go out and compete for a championship,” Sarkisian said, “and that’s what I said [on] Day 1, and I really have not wavered on that.”


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Season review: USC

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
5:30
PM PT
Our season reviews continue in alphabetic order.

Next up is USC.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler, Clay Helton
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesCody Kessler showed improvement with Clay Helton calling the plays.
Offense: When taking stock of the USC offense, you really have to look at it like it was two different seasons: The Lane Kiffin swan song vs. the Ed Orgeron rebirth. The first few games were an extended tryout at the quarterback spot, which was eventually won by Cody Kessler. In the first five games under Kiffin, Kessler completed 63 percent of his throws, averaged 166.4 yards per game and had six touchdowns to four interceptions. His raw QBR was 39.9 and his adjusted QBR was 48.9. Post Kiffin, when Clay Helton stepped in to call the plays, Kessler completed 65 percent of his throws and threw 14 touchdowns to three interceptions. As a team, they averaged 26 points in the first five games and 31.7 over the final nine. We also saw the emergence of Buck Allen at tailback. Once he started getting regular carries, he had four 100-yard rushing games in his final six games and 12 touchdowns over that same span. Often-injured Marqise Lee couldn’t follow up on his 2012 Belitnikoff Award season, but Nelson Agholor came on strong. It will be interesting to see what USC looks like as an uptempo offense with Steve Sarkisian at the helm. Grade: C+

Defense: For all the heat Kiffin took – including one last final burn – he also recognized that the Trojans needed to move to an odd front to keep up with some of the perimeter speed in the league. And he knew he had the horses. Hiring Clancy Pendergast was a wise decision. In one season under Pendergast, the Trojans cut their points allowed by more than a field goal, made huge strides in rush defense (167 yards allowed in 2012 compared to 120.3 in 2013) and were on the plus side of turnover margin at plus-6 after going minus-2 in 2012 and minus-1 in 2011. Four players landed on the first- or second-team all-league squads and Leonard Williams emerged as one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the country. Statistically, the Trojans ranked in the top three or four in the league in most major categories. Yes, there were a couple of bad games. But there was a lot more good than bad as the Trojans allowed fewer than 20 points in nine of 13 games. Grade: A-

Special teams: The Trojans were first in the league in punt returns with three touchdowns (two from Agholor), but last in the league in kick returns. They were second to last in the league in touchbacks, but had one of the stronger kick coverage teams in the league. Andre Heidari was just 15 of 22 on field goals, but he came up clutch in the Stanford game. And they were 2 for 2 on onside kicks. Some units were really good. Some, not so much. Grade: C+

Overall: Few teams in college football history had to endure the kind of internal drama that USC faced this year. And to come out on the other end up – ranked in the Top 25 and winning a bowl game over a ranked team – speaks to the character of the seniors and the job Orgeron did in relief. But it wasn’t all peaches. While the Trojans did score a huge win over Stanford, they still lost to Notre Dame and UCLA – a couple of big no-nos with the fans, die-hard and casual alike. Firing a coach midseason usually means throwing up a white flag. So we certainly give credit where credit is due. The Trojans fought hard. The losses were ugly (see: State, Washington; State, Arizona; and Dame, Notre). The future of the USC program is certainly going to be an interesting one. But when you peel back all of the layers of 2013 and reflect on what USC managed to get done, it’s hard not to respect where they ended up compared to where they could have ended up. Grade: B-
The USC Trojans defeated the Fresno State Bulldogs 45-20 in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.

It was over when: Buck Allen crossed the goal line on a 1-yard run with 4:44 left to put USC up 45-20. The Trojans had taken a 35-6 lead at halftime before Fresno State made a brief run to close the gap, but Allen provided the finishing touch with his second touchdown of the day.

Game ball: Cody Kessler. The USC quarterback set a career high, and a Las Vegas Bowl record, with four touchdown passes, and he had those in the first half alone. Kessler ended the day by completing 22 of 31 passes for 344 yards, along with one interception that was returned for a touchdown. Kessler also earned hometown bragging rights with longtime friend and fellow Bakersfield native Derek Carr from Fresno State.

Key stat: Marqise Lee with seven catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Those are the type of numbers that were routine for Lee in his 2012 Biletnikoff Award-winning year, but a pair of injuries in 2013 curtailed his performance. If that was his final game in a USC uniform, as it is widely expected he will declare for the NFL draft, it was a fitting ending for one of the best playmakers in school history.

Key stat 2: Fresno State came in averaging a nation-leading 409 passing yards per game. USC held the Bulldogs to 217.

Unsung hero: Dion Bailey. The Trojans' slot defender in their nickel package was all over the field posing problems for Carr. He had a pair of key tackles for loss and got in passing lanes to help thwart the short passing game of the Bulldogs.

What it means for Fresno State: It means the Bulldogs won’t reach their goal of a program-record 12 wins but that doesn’t take away from what was accomplished this year. Not only did they tie the record for most wins, but also they captured the first-ever MWC title game and had one of the top passing offenses in the country, led by a likely first-round draft choice in Carr. And, to top it off, they won’t have to wait long to get a shot at revenge, as they face the Trojans in the 2014 season opener.

What it means for USC: The goal for these players and coaches was to reach 10 wins in what was a season of adversity and change. It also was a resounding performance from those who wondered about the sense of motivation for the team, especially after last year’s effort in the Sun Bowl. Clay Helton hands off the Trojans on a good note, and now the Steve Sarkisian era begins.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, click here.

WeAreSC roundtable: UCLA

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
6:27
PM PT
WeAreSC staffers discuss topics relating to the upcoming crosstown rivalry between USC and UCLA.

What is the key matchup for USC vs. UCLA?

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillSlowing down quarterback Brett Hundley will be a key for the Trojans against the Bruins.
Garry Paskwietz: I’m going to say the USC defensive front against the UCLA run game, particularly Myles Jack and Brett Hundley. The Trojans have been terrific lately up front led by Leonard Williams and Devon Kennard and they have a chance to neutralize the Bruins offense if they can keep Jack and Hundley from breaking big plays. Jack has given a huge boost to the Bruins as they’ve had a tough time replacing the run game production of Jonathan Franklin. With Hundley, he has his skills as a passer but it seems as if he can really be dangerous when he creates plays with his running ability.

Johnny Curren: The USC defensive line versus the UCLA offensive line. As USC head coach Ed Orgeron noted in his weekly conference call, quarterback Brett Hundley is the heart that makes the UCLA offense tick. As such, one of the major keys to a Trojans victory will be the ability of the USC defensive line to get after the talented Bruins passer. And with UCLA likely to start three freshmen this weekend on an offensive line that gave up a staggering nine sacks to Arizona State, Leonard Williams and Co. have to be licking their chops. If the USC defensive line can, indeed, take advantage of what appears to be a significant mismatch by getting after Hundley on a consistent basis, while also limiting UCLA’s ground attack, the Trojans should certainly come out on top in this one.

Greg Katz: The key matchup will be the Trojans defensive front seven’s ability to contain UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. It’s no secret that Hundley is the heart and soul of the Bruins offense. While his arm is a threat, it’s his feet that can cause greater damage by keeping the Trojans defensive off balance. The problem with Hundley in Saturday’s game is that he’ll probably move around, over, and through the pocket more in this game than any other.

What is the top moment or game from this rivalry to take place in the Coliseum?

Paskwietz: I’ll go with the 27-0 USC victory in 2001. It wasn’t a game that decided a Rose Bowl or national championship and it didn’t involve a dramatic finish. Instead, it was a shocking exclamation point on a turnaround in fortunes for the two programs. For the Trojans, it was a glimpse of what was coming in the Pete Carroll era, the first real sign of a dominant performance under the first-year coach. It was made all the better for USC fans by the fact that it took place against the Bruins, especially since UCLA had been riding high with one L.A. area newspaper columnist even claiming it had become a Bruin town. Since that column appeared, USC has won nine of the 11 meetings between the two schools.

Curren: I’ll go with Rodney Peete’s touchdown toss to Erik Affholter in 1987. With a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line, the underdog Trojans found themselves trailing the Troy Aikman-led Bruins 13-0 in the third quarter. But then, thanks to the determination and arm of Peete, USC mounted its comeback. And with the Trojans down 13-10 with just under eight minutes left, the gutsy signal caller threw a beautiful 33-yard pass into the corner of the end zone that Affholter bobbled, but eventually reeled in for a touchdown, and USC won 17-13.

Katz: No question here that it was the 1967 game when both teams played in the Coliseum, which led to a Rose Bowl berth and the national championship. The specific moment would be tailback O.J. Simpson’s legendary, weaving 64-yard touchdown run in the final quarter, which helped position the Trojans for the final victory margin. Lost in the history was that Trojans placekicker Rikki Aldridge actually converted the PAT after the Simpson run to put the Men of Troy ahead by a point and the eventual final score of 21-20.

Which player will rise up in this rivalry game?

Paskwietz: I think it’s entirely possible that this game will become the Buck Allen show. The Trojans sophomore tailback has burst onto the scene with some dazzling performances -- the most recent being the 145-yard, three-touchdown effort against Colorado -- and he appears destined to break out on the national stage in a game like this.

Curren: RB Javorius "Buck" Allen. Allen, who emerged from anonymity earlier this season, has been on a tear as of late, eclipsing the century mark on the ground in three out of the Trojans’ last four games, and I see that trend continuing this weekend. The Bruins have a solid defense, but not dominating by any means, and they allow an average of 174.5 rushing yards per game. So if the USC offensive line can open up some lanes, there’s reason to believe that Allen, who just keeps getting better and better, will break loose.

Katz: While signs point to Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler, who continues to get better and better each game, the player who could etch his name in the lore of this great rivalry is USC sophomore wide receiver Nelson Agholor. It’s not hard to envision Agholor returning a punt to the house or having a huge scoring day as a receiver. With the effectiveness of All-America wide receiver Marqise Lee still questionable, a healthy Agholor not only has the ability to score from anywhere on the field, but he has a way of doing it in dramatic fashion that can really change the tide of emotion in such a heated rivalry game.

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