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USC vs Colorado Game Preview

After a much needed win against Arizona, USC now walks/limps into a Friday night road meeting with Colorado

Colorado vs USC Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

USC took care of business at home with a 41-14 victory over Arizona last Saturday. The win not only ended a two game slide, but it also means that the Trojans will continue to own their fate in the Pac-12 South. Unfortunately that win came at a cost as USC lost a total of six players in the win. The Trojans didn’t miss a beat as the backups came in and shined during the blow out. Players stepped up when called upon during the victory over the Wildcats.

This week could call for the same scenario. USC looks to tackle their road problems on a short week as they travel to Boulder for a Friday night showdown with Colorado. The Buffaloes are coached by former Alabama assistant coach Mel Tucker. Under Tucker, Colorado currently holds a 3-4 record overall record and 1-3 record in the Pac-12. The Buffaloes lost their last three games to Arizona, Oregon, and Washington State. Their last loss was a 41-10 blowout at the hands of Washington State in Pullman.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Arizona at USC Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Offense

Despite the offense putting up 41 points against Arizona, USC once again had issues getting their offense rolling in the first half. If it wasn’t for a special teams turnover and a fumble recovered by the defense to set up a short field, USC would've likely been tied to end the first quarter. Once the USC offense got rolling then points started coming along.

One of the biggest stories of Saturday’s game was the emergence of freshman running back Kenan Christon. As running backs Markese Stepp and Stephen Carr went down to injury, the San Diego native stepped up in a huge way and made himself known with two touchdown runs of 55 and 30 yards. His burst of speed had many Trojan fans in awe. With Stepp expected to miss a few weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his ankle and Carr status unlikely with a grade two hamstring sprain, Christon will see a huge bulk of carries moving forward. The run game should see some success against Colorado’s run defense. The Buffaloes give up 166.4 yards on the ground and opponents are averaging 4.9 yards per carry, putting them in the lower half of the Pac-12 at 9th.

The passing game took a while to jump start, but Kedon Slovis manage to weather the storm and turn in another clean performance. The freshman quarterback once again took what was given to him and didn’t try to force passes to his receivers. He ended the game with 232 yards and two touchdowns. Tyler Vaughns and Micheal Pittman Jr. also played a huge part in the passing game. Vaughns contributed 73 yards off 7 receptions while Pittman Jr. hauled in 4 catches for 69 yards. Both had a touchdown reception in the game. Amon-Ra St. Brown and Drake London also had contributions in the game. The passing game is still receiving criticism due to the lack of moving around the receivers and rotation as Harrell claimed during the offseason.

There could be a change and a heavy presence of the passing game with the Trojans facing the worst rated pass defense in the Pac-12 in terms of giving up yards. The Buffaloes give up 316 yards per game through the air. However, they’re 5th in the Pac-12 in interceptions with 7. Colorado senior safety Mikial Onu leads the team in interceptions with 4 on the year. two of his interceptions came in the season opener against Colorado State. Last year Michael Pittman Jr. had an outstanding game, going for 155 yards and 2 touchdowns on 6 receptions.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Arizona at USC Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defense

The USC defense had their best game of the season. With the Trojans down 4 starters in Christain Rector, Olaijah Griffin, Palaie Gaoteote, and Greg Johnson and Wildcats tandem of quarterback Khalil Tate and running back J.J. Taylor on the other side, a respite of disaster was destined to happen. The complete opposite happened as the defense contained Khalil Tate and sacked the Wildcats senior quarterback 5 times. They also held Taylor to 80 yards rushing off 16 carries which is a huge rebound from their loss to Notre Dame where they were gashed for over 300 yards on the ground.

The performance came with a price as USC lost safety Talanoa Hufanga, defensive end Drake Jackson, and linebacker Abdul-Malik McClain during the game. With USC having a short week, their status could be very questionable heading into Friday’s game. Linebacker Kana’i Mauga was the player of the game for the Trojans. The sophomore had a total of 13 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and an interception in the win. Helton stated that Mauga will see more time at linebacker moving forward as Gaoteote recovers from his high ankle sprain.

The defense will must bring the same game plan against a Colorado offense that ranks 8th in total offense. On the ground the Buffaloes will lean on their team leading rusher in sophomore running back Alex Fontenot. Through 7 games the sophomore currently has 568 yards and four touchdowns off 114 carries. The Buffaloes do tend to use star wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. out the backfield, though the junior receiver have been banged up through the season. USC done an outstanding job against the run last week, however with four defensive starters out, the Trojans will have to rely on their depth to step up once again.

The Trojans secondary has been one of the key strength of the team so far this season. While they will have to rely on Chase Williams to replace Talanoa Hufanga for the time being moving forward, the cornerbacks has managed to keep up their consistent play. Chris Steele, Issac Taylor-Stuart, and Olaijah Griffin has consistently been able to make plays through the season. Max Williams played in the place of the injured Greg Johnson at nickel cornerback. Williams had one tackle through the night. The secondary could get tested a little bit more through the air with Steven Montez. The senior quarterback has given the Trojans some fits with his scrambling ability in the past, however this season Montez has thrown 10 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.

Last time the Trojans made the trip to Boulder was back in 2017. Montez threw for 376 and 2 touchdowns, however he also threw two interceptions as he almost led the Buffaloes back. He also had 40 yards on the ground. Last season the Trojans defense had much better success containing the then junior quarterback. Montez was held to just 170 yards passing and threw a pick six to USC cornerback Ajene Harris. He was also sacked four times in the loss.

The Trojans won the turnover battle for the first time since the 2018 season opener against UNLV. They’ll face a Colorado offense that has issues taking care of the ball. The Buffaloes committed 11 turnovers this season but forced 12 turnovers this season. They’ve also allowed 9 sacks this season which isn’t the best of news considering USC is third in the Pac-12 in sacks at 21 and coming off a 7 sack performance last week.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 13 Colorado at USC Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Key Notes

  • USC holds an all time 13-0 record against Colorado.
  • Last year the Trojans defeated Colorado 31-20. The last trip to Boulder saw a 38-24 USC victory over the Buffaloes to clinch the Pac-12 south.
  • The last Friday game played between the Trojans and Buffaloes was November 13th, 2015. USC won 27-24.
  • USC is currently an -11.5 point favorite on the road. The Trojans are currently 4-3 against the spread and hold a 3-1 record this season as a favorite.
  • USC currently 0-3 in their last road games with losses to BYU, Washington, and Notre Dame on the road.