The USC Trojans need to win this game, plain and simply put. Head coach Steve Sarkisian called this a "bowl game" for his Trojans who current rest atop the Pac-12 South Standings vying to create some separation for themselves.
The Colorado Buffaloes (2-4, 0-3) enter this game with some tough Pac-12 losses, most notably a wild double-overtime 59-56 game against the California Berkeley Bears. Led by much-improved passer Sefo Liufau, who has completed 65 percent of his passes throwing for 19 touchdowns this season, the Buffaloes thrive throwing the football.
The Trojans' run defense has been much improved since the Boston College disaster, but USC will be facing a dual-threat quarterback this week that has rushed for 130 yards this season on 35 carries. The one man to watch for the Buffaloes on offense would be Nelson Spruce (62 catches, 732 yards, 10 TD), who will try to pull out his inner Jaelen Strong against USC's suspect pass defense.
Where the Trojans can succeed is on the ground, pounding a Buffaloes' rush defense that has allowed the most 10-plus yard carries in Division-I. That will certainly open some holes for the Pac-12's current leading rusher Buck Allen. Colorado allows nearly 170 yards per game on the ground, so expect USC to try and establish the line of scrimmage.
Heading into a must-win game at the Coliseum, USC's first game televised on the Pac-12 Networks, here are three important things to keep in mind as these Pac-12 South rivals battle it out at the Coliseum. Which by the way, home teams are a measly 4-AND-15 during conference play this season following Utah's double-overtime win at Oregon State last night.
1. Colorado will test USC's secondary
The Colorado Buffaloes are definitely better than last season, when USC stormed right into a cold, desolate environment and destroyed an upstart Colorado squad, 47-29. While former Gardena Serra HS standout Paul Richardson has moved on to the National Football League, head coach Mike McIntyre has perfectly featured the skill set of All-Pac-12 receiver Nelson Spruce.
In order for Colorado to move the football, the Buffaloes will look to spread out the football and push it downfield. Former USC commit Shay Fields (33 receptions) is second on the team in catches and speedster D.D. Goodson could provide a nice deep threat against the Trojans' suspect pass defense. USC put up its best performance against Oregon State's Sean Mannion, and expect this defense to challenge Colorado with an improved pass rush from Su'a Cravens and Leonard Williams.
2. USC has to be aggressive, Colorado will not beat themselves
Colorado has some gaping holes on defense, but the Buffaloes will not turn the ball over in minus territory. The Buffaloes have turned the ball over eight times in six games this season, vastly improved from last season. So if USC wants to take advantage of a less talented Buffaloes' squad they must take on the aggressive.
Led by the powerful rushing attack of Buck Allen, the Trojans should have no problem shredding away at this defense. Put in big Damien Mama, Zach Banner and Toa Lobendahn and let the running game role. That's the thing USC can control, size and strength can overwhelm a smaller 4-3 Colorado defense.
3. Cody Kessler should really sling the football
USC jumped out to a 37-7 lead over Colorado last season mostly in part due to Cody Kessler's solid passing effort on a cold, dark, troubling night in Boulder. Kessler finished the night 19-of-28 for 184 yards (2 TD) and pushed USC's offense forward with a 50 percent clip on third downs. Expect an even better performance this time around.
The Trojans averaged over 10 yards per completion last season, actually surpassing this season's total, and Steve Sarkisian should demand even more of Kessler in the vertical passing game. Kessler has done an excellent job distributing the football to a plethora of weapons, but it would be promising to see more touches for George Farmer and tight end Randall Telfer in the passing game.
If USC gets everyone involved early, there's no way Colorado can slow them down.