LOS ANGELES — A big question going into the season was how defenses wanted to try and stop a USC offense capable of passing or running with equal success?
Stanford faced the dilemma at halftime Saturday night, as the Cardinal watched USC quarterback Sam Darnold pass for 225 yards and three touchdowns in the first half.
“Stanford decided to play softer and take away the throw in the second half,” USC quarterbacks coach Tyson Helton said Tuesday. “So we started running that sucker.”
With the Cardinal defense focused on Darnold, USC rushed for 185 yards in the second half. It was an example of USC’s offense at its two-dimensional best.
“If teams try to stop the run, it can be a double-edged sword with the guy we have pulling the trigger (Darnold),” USC running backs Deland McCullough said.
When Darnold is scrambling and hitting wide receiver Deontay Burnett, it allows tailbacks Ronald Jones and Stephen Carr more room to operate. That is the dream scenario for the Trojans.
It also shows the importance of Carr. In the past, USC might rotate its tailbacks but it often felt like there might be a drop-off. The problem was you never knew which tailback might be ready to contribute.
In the past two seasons, there were times when Jones was anointed the special one, only to see Justin Davis outplay him. With Carr, it no longer matters because the freshman is itching for a larger role if Jones is not playing at a high level. And he could easily seize it.
“Having our top two guys, it’s a great luxury,” McCullough said. “I’m not held hostage to one guy.”
Carr gained 119 yards against Stanford while Jones had 116. The difference is Carr required only 11 carries while Jones took 23.
“Going into college, I had the mindset I would take advantage of every carry,” Carr said. “I love making moves in the open field. Making moves is my specialty.”
Barely two games into his career, it is assumed Carr will always get past one player. It requires a group of defenders to contain him.
“When I see it’s one-on-one, I think, `Let’s see what the highlight will be,’ ” Carr said.
That happened against the Cardinal when Carr reeled off a 52-yard run.
“I don’t think any defense can take the pressure we can apply with two tailbacks,” Carr said.
The running game is at worst a safety net, always there in case Darnold or more likely, the receivers, have an off day.
McCullough, who was at Indiana last season, might have the best running backs…