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Wolf: USC throws away balance to embrace running game

By in Press Enterprise on November 8, 2017

By Scott Wolf

LOS ANGELES — USC coaches constantly preach the importance of a balanced offense, except when they decide otherwise.

The Trojans ran the ball 52 times against Arizona, exactly twice as much as quarterback Sam Darnold passed it against the Wildcats. It was about as uncharacteristic as USC could be when it usually tries to run and pass equally.

“It was intentional, (it was decided) before the game,” USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin said. “And really the last two games. I know we can throw it. To win in November, you have to run.”

Maybe to win in October too, like when you play Notre Dame. But the Irish are a little different than a Pac-12 South team, so the Trojans regrouped and became physical against Arizona State and Arizona.

Tailback Ronald Jones gained 194 yards against Arizona and looked like a back of the past with 27 carries. Even his backup, Aca’Cedric Ware, gained 122 yards in 14 carries.

It is reminiscent of two years ago, when Coach Clay Helton forced USC to become a physical offense during a late-season run that helped him become Steve Sarkisian’s successor.

The conundrum is why USC can pull off an explosive run or compile gaudy rushing statistics, but then falter in short-yardage situations. USC is 2 for 6 on fourth-down situations of 3 yards or less and ranks No. 111 in the nation in fourth-down conversions.

Those stats led USC to try an ill-advised pass on a second-and-goal at the 1-yard line against Arizona. Darnold rolled out and threw an interception in the end zone. Darnold called it one of the “worst mistakes” of his football career.

“We can’t do that,” Martin said of the turnover. “You have to know the situation better.”

The prime culprit in some of these statistics is the offensive line, which often stands too high on short-yardage […]    

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