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The Morning After: Bucking the Trend

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Written by Sarah Bergstrom, USC blog contributor

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When the Trojans turned to face the crowd in the fourth quarter on Friday night, they saw more than empty seats. A giant scoreboard reading 31-14 signified a turning point in a season riddled with obstacles. For the first time in nine years, USC defeated Oregon State at Reser Stadium, and they made it look fun. 

The odds were most definitely stacked against them. But after a shortened practice week, in front of a hostile fan base in a cold city, and with a team hampered by injury, the Trojans fought and came through with what Coach O described as seemingly the biggest win of the season. It was a big victory for a team that has struggled to put all the pieces together so far, and when the Beavers scored two touchdowns within 14 seconds in the second quarter, it was easy to think things would soon fall apart. But 489 yards of offense quickly showed otherwise as the Trojans looked at the clock, saw plenty of time and played to the finish.

The dynamic Trojan defense again proved it's skill shutting down the most potent passing offense in the country, however, it was the USC offense that lit up the scoreboard, silenced the home crowd, and made the difference in the game. Marqise Lee made quite the return with five receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown and quarterback Cody Kessler was in top form going 17/21 for 247 yards and a touchdown. But it was sophomore running back Buck Allen, with 16 carries for 133 yards and three touchdowns, who stole the show in the best performance of his USC career. 
 
"When you have fun with the game everything else will flow. It feels great. My number was called and I made the best of it," said Allen. 

Making the best of it is an understatement for Allen's performance Friday night, in which he had more carries in four quarters than in his last three games combined. The running back credited his success to a coaching staff that put their trust in him, thanking his offensive line and running backs coach Tommie Robinson especially. 

"I'm very, very proud of him," said Robinson. "I knew that this would happen for him one day. He put the time in, put the effort in, he was prepared. He's done a great job preparing himself for this moment and this opportunity and he went out and executed."

Early in the season, the bulk of the running responsibilities were given to Tre Madden and Justin Davis as Silas Redd continued to recover from injury. When Redd finally worked his way back into the mix, the rotation in the backfield focused heavily around those three with Allen carrying only 14 times in the first five games. But according to his coaching staff and teammates, Allen never hung his head. Day after day in practice, the sophomore competed, improved, and fought to get his shot at a big game.  

"Buck is a tremendous competitor and a tremendous young man," said head coach Ed Orgeron. "He waited his turn. He has a heart of gold. If you know Buck, you know he is a tremendous team player who does his job every day. He worked very hard to get where he's at."

Allen had the pleasure of scoring the final touchdown for USC late in the third quarter with an impressive 52-yard run that ended with the sophomore dodging a defender in pursuit of the end zone. Robinson describes Allen as a football player who can run with power, deceptive with his speed, and has good feet which were all on display in his final touchdown. Allen explained that it was his downfield vision more than his physicality however that enabled him to turn what would have been a great first down into a scoring play.

"I saw him coming up and I went with my instincts," said Allen. "As a runner you've got to see a couple steps ahead. You've got to read the defense, be able to see downfield and have that second vision. Once you've got that, everything else comes. I trusted my instincts and they were right."

Allen's running resulted in three touchdowns accounting for a large majority of the Trojans' points, but Cody Kessler says the key for making the offense click is a balance between the pass and the run. 

"Buck played so great and tonight, he deserved that," said redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler. "But these guys realize that they all have to perform. All three or four of them are going to play and are going to have to step up.  For us to be successful our entire running core is going to have to be successful."

So what made the difference on Friday? Orgeron described the need for the Trojans to find a balance, one between having fun and being loose, but also playing well and wining games. The team was definitely having fun as players danced on the sideline heading into the fourth quarter and, after a week-long familiarity with the Beavers' "Chainsaw Song", got amped up on defense to the roar of the Reser crowd. The team was also getting it done, with three interceptions and a productive offense that couldn't be stopped. Safe to say a balance was found. 

"It's just fun," said senior running back Silas Redd who also went over 100 yards as a critical element in Friday's efficient running game. "It's just fun to be out there playing with these guys. We really feed off the defense on the sidelines. It's just such passion and we have such a bond out there, it makes it ten times better."

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