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Trojan Tailbacks Rule by Committee

October 26, 2003|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE — The USC backfield has grown so crowded, it seems there isn't much room for ego. At least not yet.

While Hershel Dennis starts the game at tailback, LenDale White doesn't mind standing on the sideline.

"I cheer for him," White says. "I know they're going to call on me."

And while White takes his turn, Reggie Bush waits in the wings.

"We're like a family," Bush says. "We're not selfish with the ball."

The Trojans' tailback committee reconvened against Washington on Saturday and, this time, it was Bush's turn to grab the spotlight. The freshman -- his teammates call him "The President" in the locker room -- carried 12 times for 81 yards marked by dazzling cuts and breakaway speed. He also caught two touchdown passes.

His third-quarter touchdown -- a short completion followed by a 60-yard sprint -- served as a turning point in a 43-23 victory at Husky Stadium.

USC, which had squandered scoring opportunities earlier, surged comfortably ahead and never looked back.

"It's so fun to know he's gone," Coach Pete Carroll said of watching Bush pull away from a pair of defenders. "You get to enjoy the end of the play. That's such a cool feeling."

Washington defensive end Terry Johnson might not have enjoyed Bush's performance, but he appreciated it.

"I didn't know he was that good," Johnson said.

While Bush scored a second touchdown on a 37-yard reception, setting a school record for yards receiving by a tailback (132), the rest of the backfield was hardly shut out.

Dennis, who led all rushers with 98 yards, struck first with a 34-yard run near the end of the first quarter. That set up White's 21-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

"With everybody out there making plays, you want your chance," White said.

For the second week in a row, the trio combined to give USC more than 200 yards rushing from the tailback spot. Playing behind a solid offensive line, they have the Trojans ranked among the best rushing teams in the Pacific 10 Conference.

Dennis is the finesse runner, the starter in every game this season. White is the bruiser and had 100-yard performances against Arizona State and Stanford. Bush holds perhaps the greatest potential, the acceleration and ability to cut back.

"When you see Reggie back there, you know it's going to be a little different type of running," center Norm Katnik said. "But our blocks are the same no matter what."

So far, Carroll hasn't heard any of his tailbacks grumble about sharing the ball and he's not about to ask. While conceding it could be a problem down the road, he figures at this point collective youth is on his side.

"They seem so fresh, so young, they're just fired up to be part of the team," he said. "They don't even think that way."

If anyone has reason to feel put out, it would be Dennis, who waited behind the likes of Justin Fargas and Sultan McCullough last season.

Yet, placed in the unlikely role of elder statesman, the sophomore has advised his younger teammates on everything from playbook matters to living in Los Angeles.

Besides, he thinks there is enough action to go around.

"I don't mind it at all," Dennis said. "We've got too much talent to make one man the superstar."

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