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USC tailbacks will take a run at starting spot

Marc Tyler remains atop the depth chart, but his fumble against Minnesota allowed Allen Bradford a chance to get on the field. And after a 131-yard rushing performance, Bradford is pushing to be the lead back this week.

September 22, 2010|By Gary Klein

Allen Bradford used to claim that he needed multiple carries in succession, that being revved up would make him a more productive running back for USC.

Not anymore.

"Just give me one carry and that's going to spark the flame," Bradford said Tuesday.

Bradford's breakout performance against Minnesota last week has reignited the tailback competition at USC, which plays its Pacific 10 Conference opener Saturday at Washington State.

Bradford, a fifth-year senior, is pushing to unseat junior Marc Tyler as the starter while freshman Dillon Baxter also is angling for a larger role.

"We're going to go through the week and give them some shots," Coach Lane Kiffin said.

Kiffin is not a fan of the tailback-by-committee approach favored by former coach Pete Carroll, but that's what he utilized during much of the Trojans' 32-21 victory at Minneapolis.

Tyler started for the third game in a row but seemed to lose his grip on the top spot when he lost the ball after a short gain midway through the first quarter. Television replays indicated that Tyler was already down when the ball came loose, but it was officially ruled a fumble.

Though USC recovered, Bradford came on and gained 11 yards on the next play, setting him on his way to a 131-yard performance that included a 56-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run.

"You never know when you're going to get your chance," Kiffin said. "Allen got it because of Marc putting the ball on the ground, and he made the most of it. And now he's made it a very close competition."

Tyler is listed as the No. 1 tailback on the initial depth chart for Washington State and running backs coach Kennedy Pola said, "Right now, Marc is going to take the first-team reps."

Tyler is eager to hold onto the spot, especially after climbing there after an injury-riddled first three seasons when he was all but forgotten.

The former Westlake Village Oaks Christian High star opened the season with an impressive 154-yard rushing performance at Hawaii that included a 44-yard touchdown run. But he gained only 68 yards against Virginia.

Then came the fumble Saturday.

"They were mad," Tyler said of the coaches, "That kind of threw me off."

After averaging 17.5 carries in the first two games, he got nine at Minnesota.

"It felt weird after the game," he said. "I wasn't sweating. I wasn't tired. I was walking out of the stadium and it felt like I could go play another game."

Tyler, however, credited Bradford for seizing the opportunity.

Now, he's trying to hold off a challenge for his starting role.

"I need to be more physical and let the game come to me," Tyler said. "I've been trying to make a big play every time I get the ball, and it's not been working."

Bradford, No. 1 on the depth chart at the end of spring practice, refused to outwardly stew when coaches opted for Tyler at the end of training camp. He got eight carries against Hawaii, three against Virginia.

He maintained that he would continue to "prepare like a pro," an attitude that drew praise from Kiffin.

Now, Bradford is on the verge of possibly starting.

"I'm not going to say that I need to be the starter," said Bradford, who fumbled late in the game against Minnesota. "Once I'm out there, let my actions speak.

"I still have stuff I need to work on."

So does Baxter, who has been solid if not spectacular in his first two games.

After accounting for a state-record 79 touchdowns on offense as a senior at San Diego Mission Bay High, he has averaged 4.6 yards in 16 carries for the Trojans.

"I haven't really been going full 100% — I need to go hard every practice and give everything," he said. "They say practice makes perfect so hopefully it will spice my game up."

Meantime, C.J. Gable is the odd man out.

The fifth-year senior has made 18 starts, far more than the other tailbacks. But Gable has mainly been relegated to fourth-quarter and special-teams duty.

Gable threw a key block that sprung Robert Woods for a 97-yard kickoff return against Minnesota.

"I can't tell the future," Gable said. "Right now, I'm fourth string. Whatever happens, and my number's called, I'm going to be ready."

That attitude worked for Bradford.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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