USC’s productive running game looks to live in the (Silas) Redd zone

USC running back Silas Redd provides the Trojans with a level of experience and toughness that has proved to be a valuable asset for the offense.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

USC’s plan was simple: Give the ball to Silas Redd.

Last Thursday against Arizona, the Trojans were backed up to their four-yard line with a seven-point lead and just over four minutes remaining.

Offensive coordinator Clay Helton was calling plays for the Trojans for the first time. But he never deviated. He called on Redd.

Seven consecutive times.

“That’s a very seasoned vet who’s been in that situation before,” Helton said. “It was Silas’ time.”


Redd’s final carry — a 10-yard gain on a third-and-eight play — enabled USC to run out the clock in the final minute. The Trojans won, 38-31, in Ed Orgeron’s first game as interim coach.

“It just felt great that my team could trust me in that situation,” Redd said.

Redd’s final run provided an exclamation point to a night of power running by five USC tailbacks, an approach Orgeron said could continue Saturday against Notre Dame and beyond.

Redd, a senior making his season debut; sophomores Tre Madden and Javorius Allen, and freshmen Justin Davis and Ty Isaac helped the Trojans rush for 249 yards.

The running game also set up several play-action passes that produced long gains, including a 62-yard touchdown by receiver Nelson Agholor.

“We had pounded playing with physicality all week,” Helton said. “Being able to run power plays and not caring how they lined up or how many people they had in the box.

“The offensive line, in that game, made it happen.”

The Trojans are averaging 200.3 yards rushing per game. On Saturday, they will face a defense that is giving up 122.3 yards rushing a game, which ranks 23rd among 123 major-college teams.


Helton said he and running backs coach Tommie Robinson have confidence in every tailback.

Madden, who has rushed for a team-best 611 yards, suffered a hamstring injury against Arizona but is listed as probable for Saturday.

Davis has been dynamic throughout the season, Allen broke out with two touchdowns against Arizona and Isaac averaged 12 yards a carry Thursday.

But Redd provides the Trojans with experience and proven toughness.

His performance against Arizona was something of a milestone for a player who sat out the first five games while recovering from knee surgeries.

“I really think he’s come back a better player,” Orgeron said.

Last season, after transferring from Penn State to USC on the eve of training camp, Redd rushed for a team-best 905 yards.

But during spring practice he suffered torn ligaments in his left knee. Redd had surgery with hopes of being ready for training camp.

However, it was clear when the Trojans reported to campus in August that Redd would require more time.


Dr. James Andrews, a noted orthopedic surgeon, performed another procedure on Redd’s knee in late August in Florida. Redd continued rehabilitation and traveled with the Trojans to Arizona State two weeks ago but did not play in the 62-41 loss.

He was finally cleared by doctors before the Arizona game and made the most of his opportunity.

Redd entered the game late in the first quarter. His knee felt fine, he said, but his vision took time to adjust to the speed of the game.

“I started really seeing things in that fourth quarter,” he said.

Arizona pulled to within a touchdown with 4 minutes 18 seconds left, and the Wildcats appeared primed for a possible comeback victory after they tackled kick returner Kevon Seymour at the four.

To that point, Redd had carried 12 times for 37 yards.

As he prepared to go back onto the field, Redd said Helton and Robinson “made it clear that we needed two first downs.”

Redd got the first with runs of eight and 12 yards. He got another with gains of three and eight yards.


But there were still about three minutes left.

Redd was stopped for no gain and Arizona called timeout. He rushed for two yards and USC called timeout.

On third and eight, Redd took a handoff and ran to his left, eyeing the first-down marker.

“I was just bouncing outside and I saw where the sticks were,” he said. “I saw a defender in my way and managed to run over one. Then a cornerback . . . knocked me off balance but I didn’t go down.”

Redd got the first down with one thought running through his mind.

“We won, we won, we won,” he said. “It was the best feeling I had in a long time.”

Redd finished with 80 yards in 19 carries.

“That’s how we want it,” senior right tackle Kevin Graf said. “We want the ball in our hands with four, five or six minutes left so we can drive the ball and run out the clock.”

Redd said each of USC’s tailbacks is capable of coming through as he did against Arizona.

But if the situation presents itself again, coaches probably would turn to Redd.

And he would again welcome the opportunity.

“I would love the ball in my hands,” he said.

Twitter: @latimesklein