Young tailbacks give USC 1-2-3-4 punch

Updated: October 30, 2003, 7:47 PM ET
ESPN

LOS ANGELES -- Southern California has been known as "Tailback U" for decades, producing such great running backs as Marcus Allen, Ricky Bell and Charles White.

This season, No. 3 USC's running game operates by committee, as in "Tailbacks U."

"We have so many weapons back there, so many styles," quarterback Matt Leinart said. "They are such explosive backs. We have four of them who are all studs, and that's a good problem to have."

There's Reggie Bush and Hershel Dennis, slash-and-dash runners reminiscent of Allen in the 1980s. LenDale White and Chauncey Washington run over people the same way Bell did in the 1970s.

Dennis is the elder of the group, a sophomore who has started every game this fall. The other three are freshmen.

"They had to contribute because we didn't have any depth at all," coach Pete Carroll said. "We didn't know what kind of factor they would become, but we were hoping it would be like this.

"We knew Reggie was special, and LenDale and Chauncey would have something special. We were hoping they were able to give us a 1-2 punch."

Instead, the Trojans (7-1, 3-1 Pac-10) have a 1-2-3-4 punch at tailback, at least as long as Carroll keeps up the rotation.

On Saturday, No. 6 Washington State (7-1, 4-0) visits in a game that could decide the Pac-10 champion.

"I'm amazed at their tailbacks," Washington State coach Bill Doba said. "Especially Reggie, the way he's improved."

Bush (6-0, 190) has carried 52 times for 320 yards. Dennis (5-foot-11, 190 pounds) has rushed 98 times for 465 yards. White (6-2, 225) has 86 carries for 422 yards. Washington (6-1, 205) was slowed by an injury earlier and has 19 carries for 65 yards.

"We have power backs, we have shifty backs, and we all think we can get the job done," White said. "The line has had great success making holes and making it all possible. It's great to be a part of it."

Running backs coach Kennedy Pola is pleased with their progress.

"They're maturing at the right time, right when we're in a championship race," he said.

In the opening win over Auburn, Dennis had a solid game, running for 85 yards and a touchdown. White rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns in the Trojans' fifth game, a win over Arizona State, then ran for 108 yards the following week as USC beat Stanford.

Bush came on to gain 89 yards on just six carries and score on a 58-yard run in the Trojans' win over Notre Dame.

"We're all competing for the same job, and we make each other better," Bush said. "At the same time, we support each other, are not out here to hurt each other. We all want a good season."

Although the tailbacks each have different talents, Carroll wants to make certain they don't get typecast.

"Those guys are so versatile. They're not just one-dimensional and can really do a lot of things," Carroll said.

The coach was intent on developing a balanced offense, and the emergence of the running game has helped keep pressure off Leinart, a redshirt sophomore who replaced Heisman winner Carson Palmer.

"It creates a lot of mismatches on defense, a lot of problems for a defense when you have so many guys that can do stuff when you get the ball to them," said Leinart, who already has passed for 2,175 yards and 21 touchdowns "All I've got to do is give them the ball and let the playmakers do their job."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index