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How'd the USC offense get back on track? Running the dang ball

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A renewed focus on the run has helped USC win their last two.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Southern Cal has picked up a pair of big wins since interim head coach Clay Helton took over, and the 41-31 loss to Notre Dame in Helton's first week was still pretty competitive. The former offensive coordinator under Steve Sarkisian helped lead USC to a huge win over a top-10 Utah team, and followed that up with a 27-21 win at Cal last week.

And what did the two wins have in common? The Trojans set new season highs in rushing attempts in each game.

USC came into this season with five returning starters on the offensive line -- a big, strong group that includes 355-pound guard Damien Mama, one of several four- and five-star recruits on the front. But without an obvious star tailback returning, the running game occasionally got lost in the shuffle under Sarkisian.

Since taking over, Helton put a focus on speedy freshman Ronald Jonesanother big-time recruit. Jones broke a 65-yarder against Notre Dame, but finished with a frustratingly low six carries on the day. The next week against Utah, he had a season-high 15 carries for 73 yards and a touchdown and against Cal he had 11 rushes for 80 yards. The 185-pound Texas native is currently averaging 9.1 highlight yards per opportunity, a higher number than Leonard Fournette, Derrick Henry and Ezekiel Elliot this season.

Combine Jones' explosiveness with the consistency of veterans Tre Madden and Justin Davis, and USC has a dynamic rushing attack. That's a lot of pressure off quarterback Cody Kessler, who was able to complete 75 and 81.8 percent of his passes in the wins. That was his highest completion rate since the Sept. 19 conference opener against Stanford, and he's now up to 70.4 percent on the season.

It also sets up the rest of this schedule pretty well for the Trojans. Two of the four remaining opponents, Colorado and UCLA, are at the bottom of the Pac-12 in rushing defense. USC may be 5-3, but it's just two games out of first in the Pac-12 South.


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