LOS ANGELES — Of the 159 rushing yards Ronald Jones amassed in USC’s season-opening victory over Western Michigan, 122 came after contact.
Deland McCullough, the Trojans’ running backs coach, took notice.
“It ain’t always the flash and long runs,” McCullough said. “It’s the dirty work of lowering your shoulder, running through trash, breaking arm tackles and sending a physical message to your opponent.”
Jones, a junior, showed a knack for long runs in his first two seasons at USC, often relying on his breakaway speed to cut outside and glide down the sidelines.
But since training camp, USC’s coaches have remarked on how Jones has made strides toward developing into a hard-nosed runner, better able to run between the tackles and fend off defenders, a product of adding 10 pounds in the offseason.
On Jones’ opening run against Western Michigan, he shed at least two potential tackles for a gain of 29 yards.
“He’s really so much stronger a runner than he was last year,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “Arm tackles aren’t bringing him down.”
As USC prepares to host Stanford in its Pac-12 opener on Saturday, its running game holds some significance.
When it last defeated the Cardinal, a 13-10 victory in Palo Alto in early September in 2014, it was powered by Javorius Allen, a senior running back who rushed for 154 yards. Stanford finished with a total of just 128 rushing yards.
Stanford has outgained USC by an average of 106 yards per game, leading to three consecutive wins in the series over the past two seasons, largely a product of a Christian McCaffrey-led backfield.
After last season, McCaffrey turned pro, leaving Bryce Love as the Cardinal’s primary running back. He totaled 180 yards in the season-opening win over Rice.
But Jones is left as the veteran runner.
On Tuesday, Stanford coach David Shaw compared Jones to Jamaal Charles, the NFL running back for the Kansas City Chiefs.
“More physical than people have given him credit for,” Shaw added. “He’ll run through tackles.”
Jones said he hoped to replicate a similar physical style against the Cardinal.
“The weight is just helping me run through defenders,” he said.
Quarterback Sam Darnold was dismayed when he left the locker room at the Coliseum on Saturday.
He was held without a touchdown pass for the first time since his debut start at Utah last September.
Darnold said it “was probably the worst I felt” after a start at…