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LOS ANGELES (AP) — If Javorius Allen was surprised to receive criticism from his head coach after his third 100-yard rushing game of the young season, Southern California's top running back didn't show it.
In fact, the back better known as Buck agreed with it.
Allen knows the 16th-ranked Trojans (3-1, 2-0 Pac-12) are capable of much more in the running game than they've accomplished in the first month of the season, and he wants to keep it rolling at Tailback U.
Allen rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown against Oregon State last weekend, while Justin Davis added 82 yards and another score. But even after a 200-yard team rushing effort in a blowout win, coach Steve Sarkisian lamented his tailbacks' inability to break tackles down the field, saying Allen and Davis had been brought down too easily at times.
"If you want to be a great back, you've got to make guys miss at the second level," Allen said Tuesday. "That's what Sark was saying, and he's right."
When the Trojans host Arizona State (3-1, 1-1) on Saturday, Allen and Davis realize they will be compared to D.J. Foster, the Sun Devils' do-it-all back leading the Pac-12's most productive running game. Arizona State is averaging 262.8 yards per game on the ground, nearly 100 yards more than USC.
But Allen and Davis kept USC moving in September even with a young offensive line, Sarkisian's new offensive scheme and the season-long injury absence of Tre Madden, who rushed for 703 yards last season.
"They've both had long runs, and they're making people miss," Sarkisian said. "It's just a matter of making it an emphasis. It's that last piece of their game that we want to take to another level."
USC has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of its three victories, but was held to just 20 yards in its stunning loss at Boston College. The Trojans were back in form against Oregon State, and Sarkisian expects another run-first offensive effort against the Sun Devils.
Any inconsistency in the Trojans' running game likely has much to do with their inexperienced offensive line. Three freshmen have started on the line already this season, and backup Aundrey Walker is the only experienced senior getting significant playing time.
"I just tell them to trust in the coaching staff and believe in each other," Allen said. "I know they can do it on the line. I've seen it already."
Allen and Davis also are pass-catching threats for Sarkisian's offense. Allen has 14 catches in his last two games, while Davis caught his first career TD pass against Oregon State.
The Trojans have remained deep at tailback throughout several years of NCAA sanctions and scholarship restrictions, and they're stacked again despite Silas Redd's departure for the NFL, Ty Isaac's transfer to Michigan and Madden's lingering injury woes.
They still haven't had any contribution this season from Madden, who has been sidelined since camp with a case of turf toe. Madden got off to a spectacular start as a tailback last season, but the converted linebacker hasn't been healthy since, missing last year's bowl game and two other games with hamstring injuries.
Madden was back in pads at practice Tuesday morning, and he went through individual drills — yet the junior clearly isn't fully healthy, and he already used a redshirt year in 2012 after a knee injury.
"It's very frustrating, but that's football," Madden said. "It takes a while to loosen up. It's very sore. It's one of the most frustrating things I've had."
Madden and Davis scored three touchdowns apiece last season in the Trojans' 62-41 loss to Arizona State.
Allen emerged as the Trojans' top tailback while Madden was sidelined late last year, and Davis has become an effective change-of-pace back this season after missing spring ball with an ankle injury. USC is confident the combination will work again this weekend.
"It's another opportunity to have a big game and keep working toward our goals," Allen said.