Getting lost in a crowd is easy. Such was the case for USC running back Buck Allen during the first half of this season.
Allen was lost in a sea of players, all competing for playing time at running back in the Trojans offense. A third-year sophomore, Allen spent the previous two years working out on scout team.
With senior running back Silas Redd nursing a knee injury sustained in spring practice, former head coach Lane Kiffin turned primarily to sophomore Tre Madden, with speedy true freshman Justin Davis providing an alternative option.
And the duo worked. But both were injured shortly after interim head coach Ed Orgeron took over, following Kiffin's firing on Sept. 29. Enter Allen.
He's been a breakout performer since, prompting an oft-repeated question, including from CBSSports.com reporter Bruce Feldman.
Buck Allen: 5 touches, 115 yds, 2 TDs... So why couldn't he get on the field for #USC earlier this year?— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) November 9, 2013
Orgeron passed the buck on Allen's emergence elsewhere within the staff.
"I really give all the credit to Tommie Robinson," Orgeron said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches call. "Tommie, since he came here as running backs coach, has liked Buck. Seems like he's going to be a pretty good player for us."
Orgeron said Robinson helped develop Allen on the field, while Allen fine-tuned his physique and power in the weight room. Robinson's work with him had Allen ready when offensive coordinator and new play-caller Clay Helton dialed up his number.
And indeed, the tweaked offensive philosophy USC has employed since Helton assumed the in-game duties has made the most of Allen's abilities. He's buoying the Trojans run game, if not improving it, as his running back mates heal.
USC's abundance of backs proved to be hugely beneficial. That a player of Allen's caliber was ready to step in with Madden nursing a hamstring injury and Davis lost to an ankle injury is a testament to the staff's recruiting.
"When [the coaching staff] arrived at USC three years ago, we thought one of the deficiencies on the roster was the big, USC tailback," he said. Orgeron alludes to the many backs in the program during its run of dominance in the mid-2000s, including Hershel Dennis, LenDale White and 2005 Heisman Trophy winner, Reggie Bush.
"We went out and recruited some guys, and we're very proud of the guys we have," Orgergon continued. "It seems like we have a nice [group] of guys who can be great USC tailbacks."
The 6'1", 215-pound Allen is emerging as one of them.
Injuries may have provided him with his opportunity, but he's more than capitalized. His performance since landing more playing time is ensuring that he has a prominent role in the Trojans' final stretch of games this season and beyond.
"He fits well in the type of the scheme we have," Orgeron said. "Sort of a slasher. He can pick the hole well, break tackles. He does a good job of catching the ball out of the backfield. He's becoming a well-rounded back."
Allen bullied Cal's defense Saturday for his second straight game 100-yard game and third multiple-touchdown performance of the season. He reached the end zone three times, twice on runs and once on a 57-yard reception.
With 137 yds on 6 carries at Cal, Buck Allen had the most yards ever on the road by a Trojan w/ 6 or fewer carries. pic.twitter.com/VRK600KoQg— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) November 12, 2013
So where does Allen measure when compared to the many great running backs to come through USC?
"It's a little too early to tell," Orgeron said. "He's just came on the scene for us. We've had some of great backs here that have done a lot of great things for a long period of time. Let's see how consistent he can be for years to come. But I think he can be a really good one."
No matter what the future holds for Allen, he's presently a testament to how much an athlete can accomplish when afforded an opportunity.