USC tailbacks agree: It's time to step up the ground game

USC enters Saturday night's game against Arizona State with the third-best rushing attack in the Pacific 10 Conference.

Not that Lane Kiffin is impressed.

USC's coach said this week that the Trojans' running game was "overrated" after stalling against Oregon — and several USC tailbacks did not disagree.

"At the beginning of the season, we were running all over everybody and we had a lot of yards," senior Allen Bradford said. "The last few games just haven't been the same."

USC is averaging 200.5 yards rushing a game.

Bradford ran for 131 yards against Minnesota and 223 against Washington but has not amassed more than 33 in any of the last three games. Bradford, who had been nursing a toe injury, said Thursday that he was 100% and was looking forward to the final five games of his college career.

"I've got to set the example," said Bradford, who is averaging 71 yards a game. "I've just got to play hard, continue to practice hard and come to practice with fire. I can't be lollygagging around."

Freshman Dillon Baxter, also slowed by a toe injury, appeared closer to full strength this week and hopes to add spark in the running game.

Baxter has averaged nearly five yards a carry.

"It's definitely been kind of mellow with the running backs lately and we definitely have a lot to improve on," he said. "Coach [Kennedy] Pola got on us real good this week about just doing things right and finishing.

"I've finally got all my class work together and now I'm ready to get onto the field."

Smith returns

Linebacker Malcolm Smith is set to start after sitting out the last two games because of a knee injury.

Smith was sidelined for three games last season, but the senior characterized his recent inactivity as more difficult.

"As a junior you think, 'Well, I have opportunities to finish this season and next season,'" Smith said. "But I'm all out of marbles, so it's tough."

Quick hits

Kiffin said no determinations had been made about whom would start at left guard, middle linebacker and one of the safety spots, all of which were opened to competition this week. But senior Michael Reardon appears to be on track to replace Butch Lewis at left guard…. Cornerback Nickell Robey returned after sitting out Wednesday's practice following a dental procedure…. Thursday's workout was conducted without pads and at a pace much slower than what had been typical for the Trojans even before the weeks leading to the Oregon game. "I'm concerned we're a little bit tired," Kiffin said. "As you look at us out there, we've tried to shorten some things down this week after the track meet last Saturday."…. USC resumed filming practice from a portable hydraulic scissor lift that was previously stationed on a campus street outside the practice facility. The Trojans had suspended its use Wednesday because of safety concerns regarding its location before moving it inside the fence and to the west side of the main practice field.

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