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ROSE BOWL | USC VS. TEXAS

Giving Them a Fair Share

As USC's running back coach, McNair's job is to keep two star tailbacks happy. The balanced numbers of White and Bush show it's working.

January 03, 2006|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

Reggie Bush is a Heisman Trophy winner; LenDale White a Heisman-caliber complement.

But the most valuable person in USC's complicated tailback equation might be a guy who hasn't carried the ball since 1996.

As coach of the Trojan running backs, Todd McNair has been charged with managing two draft-eligible stars and trying to keep them both happy.

It has required McNair to call upon his experiences playing for the Kansas City Chiefs in the early 1990s, when he shared the backfield with Christian Okoye and Barry Word.

"He's been there, done that," White said. "He knows how to keep us together and keep us in it."

The elusive Bush and powerful White each gained more than 1,000 yards rushing this season, the first time in USC history that two players achieved the feat in the same season. Almost as impressive: Before Wednesday's Rose Bowl game against second-ranked Texas, there is only a 10-carry difference between them.

Coach Pete Carroll, McNair, assistant head coach Steve Sarkisian and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said they never discussed a specific plan for making sure the two juniors shared carries equally.

Even so, the workload could not have been split more evenly going into the regular-season finale against UCLA: Bush and White each had 163 carries.

"I don't know if we could have envisioned it that well," Sarkisian said. "I knew we wanted it to be close."

So did Bush and White.

"It wasn't a surprise," Bush said. "That's just how it is with both of us doing really well right now and both of us able to make plays."

White, the Trojans' leading rusher in 2003 and 2004, started the season with 111 more carries than Bush.

"T-Mac told us, 'It has to be a joint agreement for us to be great,' " White said.

Bush and White were listed as co-starters last season, but a bulked-up Bush arrived at training camp intent on proving he could run between the tackles and was named the starter before the opener against Hawaii.

Bush rushed for 1,658 yards in 187 carries and scored 18 touchdowns, two on pass plays and one on a punt return. He twice rushed for 260 yards or more and averaged 8.9 yards a carry.

White rushed for 1,178 yards in 177 carries and scored 23 touchdowns, two on pass plays. He averaged 6.7 yards a carry.

Sarkisian said the opponent and flow of each game dictated who got the ball more.

"It was important for us to figure out who the hot guy was and get him the carries," Sarkisian said. "You want to give them the opportunities to run the runs that they do really well."

The philosophy made for equitable distribution.

Consider:

* White had more carries than Bush in seven of 12 games, but neither back carried more than 24 times. White had 24 against Arizona, Bush against UCLA.

* In most games, the discrepancy in carries was five or fewer. White had 10 more carries than Bush against Arizona, but Bush had 10 more than White against UCLA. Bush ran the ball 23 times, to White's seven, in his 294-yard effort against Fresno State.

* Bush and White ran for more than 100 yards in the same game four times, including three in a row against Oregon, Arizona State and Arizona.

Both players said McNair was instrumental in their development.

McNair, 40, played at Temple and was a running back and special teams standout during an eight-year NFL career with the Chiefs and Houston Oilers. He also coached running backs with the Cleveland Browns for three seasons before Carroll hired him in February 2004.

"The only thing I draw from in dealing with these guys is my experience," McNair said. "They know I've been there."

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