USC Heisman Trophy winner and NFL Hall of Fame inductee Marcus Allen graced me with an exclusive interview on Sept. 20 for an hour to talk about the USC Trojans and college football.
This is the third in a series of four articles, and Marcus discusses Lane Kiffin’s progress as the USC head coach and various Trojan running back topics, including tailback by committee, playing time and benching players who fumble.
Previous topics discussed include:
Marcus also discussed his association with Heisman House football legends and the Heisman Trophy fan ballot, and that story is here.
The final Marcus Allen article will review NCAA sanctions and reasons college players take money.
Here is what Marcus had to say about Lane Kiffin and the Trojan running back situation this season.
Marcus Allen at a USC vs. Notre Dame game
Marcus was very positive about the job that Coach Lane Kiffin is doing, especially considering the circumstances with the NCAA sanctions. He believes the Trojans are headed in the right direction and especially the defense [this interview was before the two Arizona games], which is most important.
Here are his feelings about Lane Kiffin:
“I think Lane is doing a good job. In talking to Lane, he wants to bring back that culture of toughness and being physical to play smart football. I know that he is challenged with the amount of scholarships and so forth.
I have given him a pass for last year for all that he had to deal with and the amount of players that he had available to play.
I think he is headed in the right direction. I think he understands the philosophy of football as we discussed. That is where he wants to take USC which is good.
It is a matter of giving the guy time to get the players in to build the program, and I think he has done an excellent job recruiting so far under the circumstances. You have to give him at least four years in the program.”
Marcus feels good about the USC start this season and the improvement of the defense:
“We are off to a good start this year. I know everyone talks about the offense, but defense wins championships even though offense gets all the credit.
Who you are is really determined by your defense. When they are tough, they always keep you in the game. That is the difference with a great defense.
We are getting better in that area. I want our defense to be tough, nasty, aggressive, hit people, create turnovers and create fear. I want people to feel defeated before they enter the Coliseum.
Over the past few years, we have lost that defensively, so the most important thing is turning this around.”
USC RB Marc Tyler is the starter, but Curtis McNeal has done a better job in relief the past two games
Understandably Marcus isn’t a big fan of running backs rotating. He also didn’t have a problem with parents wanting to meet with Kiffin about playing time for the right reasons, but it would not have happened in his time at USC.
Marcus didn’t have much to say about the current USC running back situation because he said “It is really hard to tell based on the opponents, the amount of time and commitment to the running game.”
He elaborated on the tailback by committee approach that USC has been using for some time:
“I don’t think any back likes to rotate. I always wanted to play the entire game and every aspect, whether it is short yardage, passing situations, somebody to throw the ball. I wanted to do all that.
I know that it is sort of a “me too”. If one team does it, then other teams do it.
I’m not a big fan of it, but if it works. It is hard for someone to get into a groove when you are going in and out. But in most cases, if you are hot, they leave you in. Some guys get hot after the first carry, and some guys take a little time to warm up.”
Sophomore RB Dillon Baxter has not played much this year, and his family asked for a meeting with coach Lane Kiffin to find out that not practicing hard was the reason; since then this has changed but he has not been effective in few appearances
USC has five good running backs, including senior Marc Tyler, junior Curtis McNeal, sophomore Dillon Baxter, freshman D.J. Morgan and true freshman Amir Carlisle. True freshman Javorious “Buck” Allen was a late report, so he is likely to redshirt this season.
Marc Tyler is the starter and is certainly the most experienced and effective in blocking and knowing what to do. However, the other players are very talented and all want to be on the field and get more playing time.
We talked about the Dillon Baxter family meeting with Kiffin about lack of playing time after the first game. The family was told that Baxter didn’t practice hard the week before the game. He agreed with that and changed his practice habits since that time, but “consistency'' issues have kept him off the field. Marcus said:
“I think that is fine. The kid came out of San Diego with tremendous promise and labeled a ‘can’t miss guy’, and then all of a sudden, he is not playing.
I don’t mind parents asking why and meeting with the coach. It shows they care and have a regular concern about the future of their son.
Maybe they need to hear it first hand from the coach and then the parents can sit down with the kid and try to say this is what you need to do. I hate to speculate.
The greater question is, why would you not work as hard? You have to recognize that what you are doing is paying dividends, and then if you decide to go in the opposite direction, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. I don’t know what the staff is thinking, but you have to be accountable.”
When asked if that would have happened when he played at USC, Marcus responded:
“Not to my recollection. I don’t think my father would have done it.
I remember that I got kicked off the team in high school. This is sort of ironic because it is the reason I ended up playing RB at USC. I was kicked off my high school team because I didn’t want to play QB. What I did was fumble the ball from the center exchange five times in a row. So the coach kicked me off the team and I was the best player on the team.
I went home to appeal to my father. He said that is between you and him. You better go back and fix it. I had to go back and apologize.
I wasn’t a selfish player, but I liked hitting people, and I didn’t want to play QB. But I ended up playing QB, and as a result of me running the ball at QB, John Robinson knew that I could run. That is why he asked me to come over and play RB.
We all have blind spots as young people. Even though we can’t see some things about ourselves, other people can see as coaches. Looking back the best thing that ever happened to me was playing QB because I never would have played RB at USC.”
Marcus also noted that players would do almost anything to stay in practice when he was at USC even if injured:
“The first day in practice at fullback, I broke my nose in a nine-on-seven. It was the first play and they took me out one play to look at it and then I was back in.
We never wanted to leave the field ever. We would argue tooth and nail with the coach. We were fearful someone else would get in to play our position.”
Redshirt freshman RB D.J. Morgan played well against Minnesota and then fumbled in two consecutive games; he had a few carries against Arizona
Coach Kiffin has a practice of benching players who fumble. Usually it is for the rest of the game, but sometimes it is less or more depending upon the player’s history. We discussed this practice relative to running backs.
USC has a freshman running back with great potential who fumbled in two consecutive games. Let’s hope D.J. Morgan can earn his way back for another chance because the Trojans need him [note that Morgan did play against Arizona last Saturday].
“You know that is one of the things that, even though you have to win, you have to be able to get a kid in that situation, put him back on the horse and give him the ball again so he gets confidence.
I think it is 34 straight games [now 36] that they [USC] have had a turnover, which is mind boggling. So, I understand trying to emphasize ball security, but not at the risk of losing a kid because the last thing you want to do is for a kid to drift to the end of the bench.
I remember fumbling against UCLA four times in my last game [1981 game won by USC 21-20; Allen had over 200 yards rushing], and John Robinson was not happy. Sometimes the harder you try, the worse it can get. It is something you obviously have to pay a lot of attention to ball security.”
Stay tuned to Bleacher Report for Marcus Allen’s thoughts on NCAA sanctions and the reason players take money.