Logan • Three weeks into the season, USC running back Tre Madden has gained a bit of credibility that he didn’t have headed into 2013.
When the Trojans said they were converting the linebacker into a rusher, one of USC’s deepest positions, it was met with skepticism. But now, the sophomore is the first rusher in school history who has opened the season with three straight 100-yard games since Heisman winner Marcus Allen did it in 1981.
After watching film on him this week, count Utah State as believers.
“He runs extremely hard - he’s just athletic, honestly,” senior linebacker Jake Doughty said. “He can juke, and when he needs to, he gets his shoulder down and can hit people pretty good.”
The fleet-footed running back is the main weapon for a USC team that loves to get yards on the ground. In the first few games as the Trojans were sorting out their passing offense, they pounded the rock with Madden. The team averages 196 rushing yards per game, and the run has carried them when their passing hasn’t been as reliable.
The Aggies linebackers entered the season with a reputation as a top-tier unit, with Doughty, Zach Vigil and Kyler Fackrell each earning all-conference honors last season. Against USC, Doughty said, they’ll have to put their money where their mouth is.
“The whole team likes to think of ourselves as a run-stopping team,” “When you play these big, physical, athletic teams, you find out what you’re made of. Hopefully we do pretty good.”
Special teams could be tested
Utah State fans know the heartbreak special teams errors can bring, especially in their biggest games.
A victory at Auburn slipped away after the Tigers recovered an onside kick in 2011. Last season, Josh Thompson’s missed field goal turned out to be the difference in a close loss at Wisconsin. Another onside kick recovery helped turn a game against Utah that the Aggies had been winning this year.
Special teams coach Dave Ungerer wasn’t with the team for the games in years past, but understands the challenge as well as anyone: The athletes on USC’s teams could be starters in other programs.
“Those athletes are at a high level,” he said. “The speed, the athleticism is going to be at an all-time high. Our guys have to meet that challenge. I don’t think it’s going to be a schematic deal, but more on the one-on-one match-ups.”
Ungerer also said a critical factor will be stopping the Trojan’s return game. Marqise Lee returns punts and kicks for USC, and Ungerer said his units were working on figuring out ways to contain him.
Wells said Connor Williams is day-to-day with a foot injury, and the team will likely make a decision on whether he can play by midweek. … Ungerer said true freshman Kennedy Williams could get more involved in special teams as the season goes on.
Utah State at USC
O Saturday, 1:30 p.m.