Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sharing the backfield may not carry the load

We're now in year two of USC's "running back by committee" offense, and the more I see it, the more I see a need for change. The interchangeable parts of the Trojans offense may prosper against lesser defenses, as they did in posting three 100 yard rushers against Washington State. But when it comes to the better defenses, especially in the Pac 10 conference, whatever happened to the phrase, "If it aint broke, don't fix it"?

Aside from the predictable play calling of Steve Sarkisian, some of the USC offensive struggles can be credited to never allowing a runner to get in rhythm. We can use the most recent contest against Arizona as an example. As quickly as Stafon Johnson established himself as a force against the Wildcats defense, is as quickly as we saw new faces enter the backfield to be dropped for losses. Stafon Johnson averages 5.4 yards a carry, yet we resorted to throwing incompletions on 3rd down and 2. In the second half of the ballgame, an Arizona defense was obviously tiring, but we failed to take advantage, looking for the homerun shot, instead of punishing them with smash mouth football.

It hurts when unhappy players transfer out of the program, in hopes of receiving more playing time elsewhere. But it's even more painful to see a great defensive effort nearly go for naught, because coaches are trying to keep everyone happy. Build a lead and everyone can play. Play as a committee, create offensive disruption, and you chance an entire team not playing at all in January. I know "a win is a win", regardless of how ugly. But the offensive play calling and substitutions were the difference between a blowout and a near upset. The Trojans sputtered to an escape in Tuscon, with Mike Stoops also making some bad decisions on the opposing sideline. But we should already know from the notch in the loss column that sometimes when you live on the edge you're liable to fall.

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