There has been an order of ascension in the tailback tradition at USC and freshmen are seldom, if ever, accorded No. 1 status.
But there’s a possibility that Aaron Emanuel, the highly regarded freshman from Quartz Hill High, could break tradition by becoming USC’s starting tailback.
USC coach Ted Tollner said Sunday night that he isn’t sure of the order of rotation for his tailbacks. But he was emphatic that Emanuel has to play.
So one question has been answered. The 6-foot 2 1/2-inch, 215-pound running back will not redshirt this season barring injury.
Emanuel made his debut in the third quarter of USC’s 24-0 loss to Arizona State Saturday night at Tempe, Ariz. He made some mistakes, running the wrong way and fumbling, but he displayed an explosive quality that hasn’t been evident with the other tailbacks this season.
Tollner said that all three of his tailbacks, Fred Crutcher, Steve Webster and Emanuel ran hard. As for Emanuel, he said: “He has to play. Aaron has tremendous strength and some explosiveness and, although he didn’t break any long runs, he was close.”
Emanuel averaged 5.4 yards a carry while gaining 76 yards in 14 attempts and he came close to turning an 18-yard run into a touchdown.
Crutcher had respectable statistics, too, with 72 yards in 18 carries, while Webster, a slithering-type runner, gained 31 yards in 9 carries. Ryan Knight, who had been the first replacement for Crutcher against Illinois and Baylor, didn’t play Saturday night. He injured his ankle in practice last week, but Tollner said that he was physically able to play.
So it’s anybody’s guess in regard to the new tailback rotation, but one thing is certain: Emanuel will get more playing time and it wouldn’t be surprising if he is elevated to starting status.
USC was generally favored to repeat as conference champion but the Trojans are struggling. They’re 1-2, the worst start since the 1961 season that ended with a John McKay team finishing 4-5-1.
As for Saturday night’s loss, Tollner said: “You can’t give the ball away six times (five fumbles, one interception) with a couple of turnovers being in scoring territory and expect to win. You also can’t give up a 95-yard touchdown pass.
“We actually played pretty aggressively at a lot of positions. There were good, solid lanes for our running backs. They just didn’t have the ball all the time at the end of the run.”
However, Crutcher and Emanuel were the only running backs to lose fumbles to Arizona State. Quarterback Sean Salisbury was charged with two fumbles and reserve quarterback Rodney Peete had another on a botched exchange with Emanuel.
The turnovers coupled with two big plays by Arizona State kept the Tempe jinx in tact. USC has lost four of five games there, including a 1982 Fiesta Bowl setback to Penn State.
The decisive plays:
On fourth-and-inches for a first down at the USC 33-yard line in the second quarter, ASU quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst faked a handoff to a running back and then threw a pass to fullback Vince Amoia, who was in motion on the play. He caught the the ball on the 20 and easily scored on a 33-yard pass play.
Tollner: “Three defensive backs didn’t have any run responsibility and (cornerback) Louis Brock had the outside third of the field to where the back went in motion. Lou went for the run fake and even collided with the guy that caught the touchdown pass. Then, he ran right by Brock. You run that play hoping a defensive back will bite on the run.”
Arizona State was hemmed in on its own five-yard line when Van Raaphorst threw to split end Aaron Cox at the ASU 30-yard line. Cox turned it in to a 95-yard touchdown pass play for a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.
Tollner: “We were in a two-deep zone coverage and (safety) Jerome Tyler took the wrong angle on the pass and came underneath it. He not only missed the ball, but he ran into (cornerback) Matt Johnson, who had underneath coverage. At most, it should have been a 20 to 30-yard gain.”
USC had marched to the ASU two-yard line before the scoring bomb. Crutcher replaced Webster at that juncture and fumbled.
Tollner: “Crutcher is our most proven ball carrier and he hadn’t fumbled this season up to then. Freddie is an excellent inside runner and we just played the percentages.”
Curiously, on Sept. 7, Webster replaced Crutcher when USC was stationed on the Illinois 12-yard line and Webster promptly fumbled. Illinois then scored on an 83-yard touchdown pass play.
Trojan Notes Ted Tollner on Sean Salisbury: “He played tentatively and was not aggressive compared to past performances.” Salisbury completed only 5 of 13 passes for 52 yards. . . . It’s homecoming Saturday for USC when it meets Oregon State at the Coliseum. The Beavers (2-2) will come here with a better winning percentage than USC (1-2) for the first time since 1940. . . . USC has scored only four touchdowns in three games, none by rushing. . . . In three games, USC has been inside the opponents 30-yard line 13 times and has failed to score on nine occasions. . . . Seven of USC’S 10 turnovers this season have preceded 41 of 54 points for the opposition. . . . Injury report: Tight end Paul Green has a sprained ankle. . . . Pacific 10 teams have lost 12 out of 22 nonconference games with one tie. Of the nine wins, four have been against Pacific, Idaho, Toledo and San Jose State, not recognized as powers.