In a USC season filled with highs and lows, off-the-field drama and on-the-field intrigue, Saturday's rivalry game against UCLA offered more evidence that the Trojans have found their tailback of the future, and his name is Javorius “Buck” Allen.
Running behind a banged-up and depleted offensive line, Allen tried to keep the Trojans' offense in the game. He rushed for 123 yards on 20 carries and scored on an 11-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
But his success didn't take enough defensive pressure off quarterback Cody Kessler, and the Trojans were beaten by the Bruins, 35-14, at the Coliseum.
“No excuses. We just didn't play well,” interim Coach Ed Orgeron said. “Buck has been a tremendous story all year. I think he made a lot of yards on his own. It didn't look like there were many holes.”
With USC trailing, 28-14, and 13:36 left, Allen's fumble on the USC 20-yard line after catching a short pass from Kessler was one of his few mistakes on a night he kept taking on UCLA tacklers and powering his way in an attempt keep drives alive.
Allen said he felt he never had full possession of the ball, but he didn't blame the game officials. “That's me not paying attention to details. You're supposed to look it in, and that wouldn't have happened. I put that on myself. I can't blame anybody.”
“He's a stud,” UCLA linebacker Jordan Zumwalt said.
“He runs hard. He makes plays and it's hard to tackle him.”
Allen, a sophomore, started the year as a fourth-string tailback, but he has rushed for more than 100 yards in four of his last five games.
“He's done a lot of great things and has shown how much improvement he's made,” USC offensive tackle Kevin Graf said.
Allen's challenge Saturday became a lot tougher when two starting USC linemen went down with injuries.
After the third play of the game, center Marcus Martin was taken away in a cart to the locker room with his left leg bandaged up. Sixth-year senior Abe Markowitz stepped in.
Then, on the opening possession of the third quarter, offensive guard Aundrey Walker had to be taken away with a broken ankle. Another senior, John Martinez, took over.
So much has changed since USC began its season last August in Hawaii.
There were the struggles in September, the firing of coach Lane Kiffin, the emergence of Orgeron as a dynamic leader and a five-game winning streak.
From movie nights to cheesecake for desert to catered In-N-Out burgers, the players responded. There have been fewer penalties, improved play and more enthusiasm playing for Orgeron.
“He's been around us a long time and he knows what our potential is, what we can and what we can't do,” Allen said of Orgeron. “We just came out a little bit flat, and I agree with him. We have to put this behind us.”
“Buck has been a tremendous story this year and he has turned into a wonderful back for us,” Orgeron said. “Buck is a good player. He played decent tonight. No one played well enough to beat a rival team, and that is our responsibility.”
The Trojans (9-4) had no answer for the Bruins, and Allen couldn't do anything about some areas. USC's special teams gave up long kickoff returns to Ishmael Adams and the defense couldn't stop Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley on third-down runs.
“It was the worst performance since we've been back together,” Orgeron said.