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IT'S NOT JUST A RUN OF LUCK
John Underwood
November 20, 1978
Mike Garrett, O. J. Simpson, Clarence Davis, Anthony Davis, Ricky Bell and, now, this man, Charles White. There has to be a reason to explain USC's illustrious dynasty at tailback
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November 20, 1978

It's Not Just A Run Of Luck

Mike Garrett, O. J. Simpson, Clarence Davis, Anthony Davis, Ricky Bell and, now, this man, Charles White. There has to be a reason to explain USC's illustrious dynasty at tailback

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"But don't you have any depth at tailback?"

"O.J. is depth."

That was vintage McKay and it is still packing 'em in. At Tampa, he answers irritating comparisons to his days as a college coach by saying that if his Tampa Bay Buccaneers have to win a Super Bowl for him to "prove" himself as a coach, then Tom Landry should have to win four national collegiate championships. McKay won four at USC. He did not do it by quipping his teams into shape. It only seemed that way. Here's how he did it:

In the mid-1950s, a coach named Tom Nugent made Florida State into a respectable football power by springing on the world a formation he called, simply, the "I." It featured the quarterback under the center in T-formation fashion but the running backs snugged up directly behind in a kind of three-point conga line.

The formation got Nugent some notoriety and, eventually, the head coaching job at Maryland. But it got little currency beyond that. Coaches complained that the I lacked versatility and questioned its capacity to get ballcarriers outside the ends.

McKay did not consider the I as a way to go until his second year at USC, and only because the defenses of the day had begun to shoot down the pro sets and split Ts then in vogue. Coaches are great copycats. McKay's first I, which bore a slight resemblance to Nugent's, was not intended to exalt the tailback but to combat the new smash hit of college defenses devised by Frank Broyles at Arkansas. In essence it was a version of the old Oklahoma 5-4 defense, a five-man front with stunting linebackers and a floating secondary man known as the "monster back."

Ideally, an offense makes its living by finding places where blockers can outnumber defenders. At the very least, offensive coaches want an even break—a balanced defense. Broyles' swarming, stunting Arkansas teams had consistently shut plays down at the point of attack. Intrigued, McKay made a pilgrimage to a coaches' clinic to compare notes, then went back to Los Angeles and, while installing elements of Broyles' defense, decided he had also best come up with a way of counterattacking if faced with the same defense himself.

McKay's fledgling USC I was unveiled, somewhat timidly, in 1961. It was used mainly for leverage, to disguise the intentions of a play. When USC lined up in the I that season, it generally shifted into something else, hoping to catch the defense out of position. In the first game of 1961, Georgia Tech walloped the Trojans 27-7. From there the Trojans slogged to a 4-5-1 finish. McKay's critics declared the I stood for Incompetence.

In the spring of 1962 McKay's assistant coaches were hit with a startling announcement: not only were they going to keep the I, but they were also going to use it exclusively. To open it up, a basic change would be made in the set: one end would split on the side opposite the flanker. And there would be a lot of shifting and men-in-motion gambits.

But the crucial change, the real stick of dynamite, the power of the power I, was what McKay had in mind for the deep back, the man at the top of the I—the USC Tailback. McKay remembered something from his days as a star high school single-wing tailback in West Virginia—and from his less fulfilling experience as a defensive back and part-time T-formation halfback at Purdue just after World War II and later at Oregon.

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