For the fourth time in as many games, USC had to come from behind to get the victory and keep their Pac-12 South title hopes alive.
It was ugly early, and often as USC marched down into the red zone on their first possession, only to fumble inside the 5. The Trojans would recover, but have to settle for 3.
Although forced to punt on their first series, Colorado went right after the young secondary, exploiting the mismatch between the Pac-12's all time receptions leader Nelson Spruce and... anyone who lined up on the other side of him. Colorado signal caller Sefo Liufau found Spruce for 35 yards after he had sent Adoree Jackson spinning in circles.
That would be Liufau's last contribution. 2 plays later he was sacked by Kenny Bigelow Jr., fracturing his left foot in the process. It appears he'll miss the remainder of the Buffalos' season.
Freshman back-up Cade Apsay did not miss a beat. After trading punts, Jered Bell intercepted Kessler and Apsay would find Spruce for another touchdown, giving Colorado a 14-3 lead. Each team would add a field goal and USC was feeling every one of those 39 degrees on their way to the locker room at half time, down 17-6.
The last time USC came back from a double-digit deficit at half time to win... Matt Leinart was under center.
But the Trojans came out determined in the second half, sacking Apsay twice on the first series, and then finally finding pay dirt late in the 3rd quarter on Jahleel Pinner's first career touchdown. Delvon Simmons would force a fumble on Colorado's next series, and USC capitalized again when Kessler found Taylor McNamara in the end zone to give the Trojans their first lead of the game.
Colorado had a chance to tie it up with a long field goal, but in what may have the been the difference in the game, Adoree Jackson came off the corner untouched and blocked Diego Gonzalez's attempt. He then scooped up the ball and returned it to the Colorado 36. Looking for the dagger, Kessler hit JuJu Smith-Schuster right in the ear hole for another score on the first play from scrimmage.
The Buffaloes would not go quietly. USC could not put a drive together and were forced to punt out of their own end zone, giving Nelson Spruce yet another chance to make his presence felt, returning it inside the 5. Colorado put up 7 more but turned it over on downs their next series, allowing USC to run out the clock.
Although Kessler's numbers were not outstanding (17/27, 204 yards), the 5th year senior proved his mettle yet again, staying composed and shaking off an ugly first half to throw for 3 touchdowns in the second. The Trojan defense also recorded 6 sacks on the night.
USC's resilience under Helton is commendable, but for better or worse, the Trojans still seem able to play only up to the level of their opponent. With a streaking Oregon up next, and what could very well be a Pac-12 South title game against UCLA after that, the Trojans have got to put 4 quarters together if they want to keep pace.
While several players proclaimed their support for Helton on social media after the game, a narrow victory over another severe underdog will do little to cement his status as a leading contender.