The USC Trojans escaped by the skin of their teeth in Boulder on Friday night, rallying past the Colorado Buffaloes 27-24 and avoiding an upset that would have slammed the door on their Pac-12 title hopes. At the basis of their struggles was USC's inability to run the football efficiently which points to a lackluster performance from the offensive line. With big games against the Oregon Ducks and UCLA Bruins to close out the season, the Trojans need more from the men up front if they hope to close out this regular season strong.
Coming into the game, it appeared that the Trojans had a recipe for a dominant performance against the Buffs. Over the last three weeks, USC had rediscovered their power running game and were coming off a huge night against the Arizona Wildcats last week where the team rushed for 229 yards and scored three rushing touchdowns in a 38-30 win. Colorado, meanwhile, boasted the worst rush defense in the conference, surrendering 208.9 yards per game and over 5.1 yards per rush.
Despite that combination, the Buffs defense came to play in this game and stymied USC's rushing attack early. At halftime, the Trojans had managed just 56 yards on 17 carries and the offense was only able to muster a pair of field goals as the Trojans trailed 17-6. They finished the game with only 129 yards rushing and a 3.5 yards per attempt average, both the third-worst marks of the season.
Ronald Jones II came into this game leading the Trojans rushing attack, averaging nearly eight yards per carry and was coming off his career-day against Arizona where he accounted for 177 yards on 19 carries with a touchdown. But on this night, he was bottled up, rushing for just 61 yards on 19 carries, managing just 3.2 yards per carry.
The team got it together late in the game with Justin Davis rushing to convert on a 3rd-and-8 with less than two minutes left that allowed the Trojans to kill the clock and get out of town with the win but the struggles this team faced against a defense that had not been able to slow opposing running games down is reason to worry. Too often, the Trojan offensive line got beat to the hole and USC running backs had to break tackles or bowl over defenders just to avoid a tackle for loss.
Maybe it was the altitude, the short week, playing in another weekday game, or just the fact that it was Friday the 13th that made this team come out of the tunnel looking nothing like the team that was riding a three-game winning streak. Whatever it was, the Trojans, and their offensive line in particular, need to shake it off so they can come out stronger in their final two games against difficult opponents.
If the offensive line shows the same kind of malaise they had early against Colorado, there's a very real possibility the Trojans end the regular season on a two-game losing streak and buried in the Pac-12 standings. This group can and must play better down the stretch.