Ohio State knows
all about the Squirrel. In the Big Game last November, with a berth in the
national championship game on the line, Hart ran wild in the Horseshoe, yet his
142 yards weren't enough to prevent a 42-39 Wolverines loss.
consolation prize was a trip to Pasadena to face USC, which had been relegated
to the Rose Bowl after a stunning 13-9 loss to UCLA in its regular-season
finale. In that game the Trojans were particularly hopeless in short-yardage
situations, due in large part to USC's misfortunes at fullback. With Brandon
Hancock, Ryan Powdrell and Stanley Havili out with season-ending injuries,
Southern California went from having three fullbacks who excelled at
pass-blocking and receiving to relying on a dog's breakfast of walk-ons and
conscripts who struggled with both skills.
That explains why
coach Pete Carroll was so jacked up about Havili after that first practice. The
sophomore was breaking runs into the secondary and turning short passes into
long gains. "[If we] take care of him," said Carroll, "he'll do a
lot of good things for us."
And what of the
mob at tailback? Chauncey Washington, whose underwhelming 744 rushing yards led
the team last season, looked streamlined and speedier than a year ago. C.J.
Gable, who started five games as a freshman, tore off some tough runs; fellow
sophomore Emmanuel Moody broke into the secondary on almost every carry.
Sixth-year senior Hershel Dennis showed no signs of the knee injuries that have
sidelined him since 2004. Still getting touches is senior Desmond Reed, even
though he hasn't been the same since blowing out a knee in '05. A forgotten man
last year, local hero Stafon Johnson starred last Thursday. Freshmen Broderick
Green (whom Carroll sees as another LenDale White) and Marc Tyler (son of
ex-UCLA Bruin Wendell) set themselves back by missing the first two days of
practice as they dealt with NCAA eligibility issues.
But no tailback
generated more buzz than Joe McKnight (SI, July 23), the goateed
freshman from River Ridge, La., whose otherworldly cuts and acceleration have
drawn comparisons with Reggie Bush. Midway into the first practice, McKnight
bounced an off-tackle play to the outside, turned the corner and was suddenly
playing the game at a different speed from everyone else. He was 45 yards
downfield before he was knocked out-of-bounds.
beneficiary of a rejuvenated running game will be senior quarterback John David
Booty, who will gain precious seconds in the pocket if defenses are forced to
respect the run. Though he was referring to teammates, Booty might as well have
been talking about the state of college football when he observed, "Those
backs are looking pretty good."