Sunday, September 23, 2012
USC running game enough to shout about
By Pedro Moura
LOS ANGELES -- Matt Barkley couldn't help himself.
He was seated between running back Silas Redd and safety T.J. McDonald at the podium for USC's postgame news conference following the Trojans' 27-9 win over Cal on Saturday, and Redd was answering a question about his 158-yard performance and combining with Curtis McNeal to approach 300 total rushing yards.
"Shout out to the O-line," Redd said. "And shout out to Curtis for being a great teammate and allowing me to be his running mate.
"It says a lot about him and his character. He's a good man."
Barkley thought Redd's use of shout-outs was hilarious. He and McDonald looked at each other immediately and laughed, but Barkley eventually contained his giggles and answered the next question seriously.
As soon as the news conference ended, Barkley ran off into the locker room playfully yelling, "Shout out to my team! Shout out!"
Later that night, he tweeted to McDonald: "Shout out to T-J, that roommate nice!"
Redd and Barkley have become fast friends since the former Penn State running back arrived at USC last month. Barkley just thought his comments were kind of funny -- and they were pretty funny in the circumstance they were uttered.
But they were also accurate.
Redd and McNeal's numbers looked much better Saturday, and a big part of why was the much-improved play from the USC offensive line.
The Trojans wouldn't be able to produce a single 100-yard rusher against most opponents based on how their line played last week. They had two against Cal on Saturday.
"I think they had their best week of practice," Redd said of the linemen. "Those guys really came out firing and we really hit them in the mouth from the first snap."
That was a necessary move based on the events of recent days.
"Our offensive line took a lot of criticism last week," McNeal said after Saturday's game. "I think they took that to heart.
"I guess they wanted to come out and show who they really are, and I think they did a good job of that today."
McNeal memorably said this week that USC needed to develop a run game if it wanted to be a successful offense. He repeated those comments after the game, pointing at the pass-run distribution as proof positive of his comments.
USC ran for 296 yards on the ground and accumulated 192 passing yards. In the next game, that will probably be different once opponents adjust to this game tape.
"You can't open up a passing game without a running game," McNeal said. "You have to have a running game. The passing game's not going to win every game. You need everybody. Me and Silas were hitting holes and we stepped our game up, too."
McNeal said the offensive line was at least "50 percent" responsible for the uptick in the run game. The rest was the running backs and a commitment to it in play-calling.
Cal cornerback Steve Williams said he was "surprised" at how effective the Trojans' running backs were on Saturday.
"They didn't have a running attack in the previous two games," said Williams, who had one of two picks of Barkley on the day. "But they came out here today and pounded the ball down the middle."
Receiver Robert Woods said Saturday's game was a necessary step as the USC offense approaches the rest of the season. Now that teams have to respect the run, Barkley, Woods and Marqise Lee can get more through the air.
"Sometimes you're gonna have a successful day in the air, sometimes you're gonna have a successful day on the ground," Woods said. "If we keep running the ball on the ground, that'll open up our play-action game and that can help us attack them deep."