USC is known as "Tailback U" for its long hist..."/> USC is known as "Tailback U" for its long hist..."/>

2008 USC Football Preview: Tailback


USC is known as “Tailback U” for its long history of Heisman Trophy winners that started with Mike Garrett in the 1960s and has continued through Reggis Bush in 2005. Over the past two seasons the Trojans been searching for running backs to replace the production from their “Thunder and Lighting” tandem of Reggie Bush and LenDale White, which combined for 3,042 yards and 40 rushing touchdowns in justt three years.

With their departures to the NFL, Bush to New Orleans and White to Tennessee, the Trojans were predominantly led by Chauncy Washington, now in the NFL, who ran for 744 yards in 2006 and rushed for 992 yards last season. Washington was a workhourse tailback, who performed admirably in big games (106 rushing yards versus Washington and 220 yards against California), but nagging injuries often derailed several of his performances. Despite the loss of Washington, return specialist Desmond Reed, and sixth year senior Hershel Dennis, the Trojans still have an overflowing amount of depth at the tailback position with six starters who could start for any FBS team in the country.

The Starters

1.) #13 Stafon Johnson

Stafon Johnson entered USC with a lot of hype, but his freshman season did go according to plan, as he carried the ball just three times all season long. However, in 2007, Johnson became one of the Trojans best running backs, as he rushed for 673 yards and five touchdowns on just 98 rushing attempts.

Johnson started the 2007 season with a bang, as he scored the team’s first touchdown of the season against Idaho and dominated the Nebraska defense in game two with a career high 144 rushing yards. Johnson continued to perform well over the next two games with 170 total rushing yards (122 at Washington) and a touchdown, but he suffered a left foot injury against the Huskies, which forced him to miss the next two games.

Although he did return against Notre Dame three weeks later, Johnson had a limited role until his foot was able to heal properly. He went five straight games without registering more than eight carries, but did have a few bright spots (a game winning touchdown against California and an impressive Rose Bowl performance with a 63 yard run).

Carrying momentum from an impressive finish to his sophomore season, Johnson looks to make a strong case for the top tailback spot and double-digit carries per game. He is a tailback with the unique the ability to fight for extra yards after contact and the speed to break off a long run. Provided he can stay healthy, Johnson may even approach the 1,000 yard territory this season.

2.) #4 Joe McKnight

No individual’s season is being met with more anticipation and hype than Joe McKnight’s. Coming into USC, McKnight was hailed as the next Reggie Bush, a player who could score from anywhere on the field at any time. While McKnight did not turn into Reggis Bush overnight, his stats compare quite favorably to Bush’s.

McKnight rushed for 540 yards on 94 yards with three touchdowns (Bush ran for 521 on 90 carries with three touchdowns as well),and caught 23 passes for 203 yards and a score (Bush had 15 receptions for 314 yards and four touchdowns).

Where McKnight proved quite similar to Bush was his knack for the big play. During the fourth quarter of a game against Arizona, with the Trojans facing a three-point deficit, McKnight returned a punt for 45 yards to set up a one-play scoring drive, which gave the Trojans the lead for good. During the following week’s game against Notre Dame, McKnight scored the first touchdown of his career on a 51-yard run to cap a 38-0 blowout of the Irish.

While McKnight’s big play ability showed a glimpse of what is to come, his signature moment of the 2007 season was his performance in the Rose Bowl against Illinois. McKnight finished with a team-high 125 yards rushing and one touchdown on ten carries. Additionally, he had 45 yards on six receptions and 36 yards on three punt returns.

While it may be too early to start comparing McKnight to Bush, McKnight should certainly be a focal point of the Trojan offense this season. He probably will not finish with the most carries or catches, but it’s quite likely that he’ll end up with the most combined touches, as the coaching staff looks to use his breakout speed to the team’s advantage.

3.) #2 C.J. Gable

While C.J. Gable may not have the blazing quickness of a Joe McKnight nor the raw strength of an Allen Bradford, he may very likely be the most reliable and complete Trojan tailback at this point in time. In 2006 and 2007, Gable started the season opener at tailback for USC and should also make a strong push for that honor yet again in 2008.

As a true freshman, Gable performed admirably, finishing the season with 434 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 111 carries. His 3.9 yards per carry average certainly didn’t win him too many postseason yards, but his overall performance was still quite impressive for just a true freshman.

While Gable’s USC career had an ominous beginning, his sophomore season was not a memorable on despite a strong start. In the season opener against Idaho, Gable led the Trojans in rushing with 68 yards on eight carries and also scored a touchdown on an eight-yard reception from quarterback John David Booty. Two weeks later in the highly anticipated matchup against then fourteenth ranked Nebraska, Gable rushed for 69 yards on just four carries, including a 40 yard run on the Trojans’ second play from scrimmage. Following the Trojans’ 2-0 start, Gable took a back seat to Stafon Johnson and Chauncey Washington, who became the primary ball carriers. In the Trojans’ next contest, a blowout win over a struggling Washington State team, Gable carried the ball just one time for six yards. Soon after, Gable underwent season-ending surgery for a strained abdomen, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season.

Fortunately, Gable was able to use to use his redshirt year because the injury occurred early in the season, and he will subsequently enter the 2008 season as a redshirt sophomore.

As a result of the hype that Joe McKnight and Stafon Johnson are receiving, it’s quite easy to forget about Gable. However, if Gable is back at full health this fall, he will easily earn the third tailback spot and perhaps even win the starting job as well.

The Darkhourse

#21 Allen Bradford

So far in his USC career, Allen Bradford has been a victim of the fact that there are not enough footballs to go around, as he has just had 37 carries and six receptions in his two years. However, he has proven that he has a nose for the endzone with five touchdowns in those limited touches.

After receiving raving reviews during spring practice, Bradford will look to fill the voide left by the departure of Chauncey Washington, as the team’s big back, and short-yardage specialist. However, Bradford is more of a complete tailback than Washington was. He’s also a tremendous threat out of the backfield and has enough speed to beat many linebackers and safeties on just about any defense.

While it’s unlikely that Bradford will earn the starting spot, there is a strong possibility that he will be a major part of the USC offense in 2008.

The Others

#26 Marc Tyler

Marc Tyler used his redshirt year in 2007 while recovering from a broken leg sustained as a high school senior. Tyler, the son of UCLA legend Wendell Tyler, entered USC with a lot of hype, as he was a member of the Oaks Christian High School team, which sent eleven players to Division 1-A schools. In high school, Tyler ran for 2,196 yards and 45 touchdowns as a junior and 1,700 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior.

As a redshirt freshman in 2008, Tyler will certainly give the upper classmen (Johnson and Gable) all they can handle in the competition for the starting tailback spot. Last season, Tyler was a member of the scout team that competed against the first-team defense. Tyler, who received raving reviews while competing on the scout team, is behind guys like McKnight in terms of game experience, but he is certainly as talented as any other USC tailback.

#29 Broderick Green

Broderick Green will enter the 2008 season as a redshirt freshman after missing all of the 2007 with a foot sprain. Green is known as a big bruiser and will therefore compete with Allen Bradford and Marc Tyler for the big-back role. While Bradford and Tyler have breakaway speed, Green is more of the traditional power back, who will slam defenders in his way. Provided he can impress the coaches this spring, he may be more than just a scout team player this season.