No. 23 USC at Colorado – A Preview – “T.I.P.S.”

Yes, Colorado is still eligible for bowl consideration.

Thanks to a big win over Cal (and an NCAA waiver allowing CU to count both FCS wins), the 4-6 Buffs can still qualify for the post-season by coming up with two wins in their final two games.

If the Buffs can figure out a way to defeat USC in the home finale this weekend, then take out the Utes in Salt Lake City next Saturday, the 6-6 Buffs could carry a three game winning streak into a bowl game.

That’s the tempting offer which potentially lies behind Door No. 2.

Or, the Buffs could find two devastating losses behind Door No. 2, erasing the era of good feeling which currently permeates the Dal Ward Center.

If were up to me, I would quit now, while we’re ahead, and call it a season.

Sorry to say it, but I just don’t see two more wins this season, and I’d hate to lose the momentum gained from the win over Cal. USC has never lost to Colorado (7-0 all-time), and has beaten CU 42-17 and 50-6 in CU’s first two years as a member of the Pac-12 (with Matt Barkley throwing for six touchdowns in each game). While a better outcome against USC this weekend is certainly a reasonable expectation, there is a reason why USC is a three-touchdown favorite this Saturday (7:00 p.m., MT, Pac-12 Networks).

Actually, there are several reasons …

Here are this week’s “T.I.P.S.” for the game:

T – Talent

For USC, 8-3 (5-2 in Pac-12 play), it’s a matter of quality, not quantity.

In the second of three seasons of restrictions on their lineup (75 scholarship players instead of 85), the Trojans have been playing short-handed. The thing is, their backups are also four- and five-star recruits, so there is not a great deal of drop-off when USC loses a player to injury. The Trojans may be thin in terms of depth, but not in terms of talent.

After sharing the starting job for the first two games of the season, sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler has been the starter since game three. In his last three games, Kessler has completed 74.7% of his passes (over 80% against both Oregon State and Cal). Kessler has 13 touchdowns passes, and only six interceptions.

Junior Marqise Lee was the pre-season All-American at wide receiver for USC, but his season totals have been held down due to injuries. Lee has 604 yards receiving this year, but that number is misleading. Lee owns or shares 24 USC records (including five which are Pac-12 records), including the record for most receiving yards in a career (and think about all of the great receivers USC has had over the years). Lee had six catches for 83 yards against Stanford last weekend, and had three kickoff returns for 52 more yards – so the CU secondary will need to be prepared for a healthy Marqise Lee.

With Lee several games this fall, Nelson Agholor has filled the void. The sophomore leads the team with 751 receiving yards, with another 300 yards in punt returns. Agholor tied an NCAA record two weeks ago with two punt returns for touchdowns against Cal, with the scores covering 75 and 93 yards.

Still, with an accurate quarterback and speed to burn on the outside, USC does not make its living with the passing game. The Trojans are 10th in the conference in passing yards per game – some 30 yards per game less than Colorado. The USC rushing attack is currently led by Javorious Allen, who has scored seven touchdowns in the last three games (six on the ground), with four of those scoring plays going for at least 43 yards.

Overall, the USC offense is not highly rated. The Trojans are averaging 394.3 yards per game in total offense, only about 15 yards per game more than the often-maligned CU offense.

So, how is it that USC is 8-3, on a four-game winning streak, and is coming off of a 20-17 win over No. 4 Stanford?

In a word, defense.

In four words, defense and special teams.

The USC defense is in the top 25 nationally in … deep breath … total defense, rushing defense, scoring defense, pass efficiency defense, sacks, tackles for loss, interceptions, red zone defense, and third down conversion defense. No depth? No problem. In stifling Stanford’s offense last week, USC used a grand total of 13 defensive players. Eleven starters, two subs – that’s it.


Oh, and did I mentions special teams? The last two Pac-12 Special Teams players-of-the-week have been Trojans. Agholor, with his two punt return touchdowns against Cal, was honored two weeks ago, while kicker Andre Heidari, who had the game-winning 47-yard field goal against Stanford, was the honoree for last weekend’s games.

Those looking for a cold Saturday night in Boulder this weekend, hoping that bad weather might slow down the USC offense … you need to be aware that even in perfect conditions, it’s hard to score against the USC defense.

Speaking of weather …

I – Intangibles

It was a good news / bad news story when it was finally announced that the USC/Colorado game would kickoff at 7:30 Saturday night.

It was bad news for members of the Buff Nation who planned to be in attendance, as the forecast was for temperatures at kickoff to be in the low 30’s.

The good news, of course, was that USC players might not be too excited about playing in colder weather.

While USC is made up entirely of players who hail from southern California (in fact, 47 of the players on the CU roster are from the California), there are a numbe of players on the USC roster who are not used to playing in the cold. As a result, there is the possibility that cold weather might play – at least a little bit – into the minds of the Trojan players.

The USC media relations office is already looking at the weather as a possible factor. In this week’s handout, the USC press office notes that the Trojans are only 9-8-1 in “cold weather” games, defined as games where cold temperatures were noted in the game recap. The last time USC lost a game, in fact, was a designated “cold weather” game, the 14-10 loss to Notre Dame on October 19th (temperature in the mid-40’s).

The last time USC played in the snow? 1957.

Of course, the real issue hanging over the USC program is not about the weather in Boulder, but the future of the program.

It’s a six million dollar question.

Ed Orgeron took over for Lane Kiffin six games ago, and all the “interim” head coach has done is to go 5-1, including last weekend’s upset win over No. 4 Stanford.

So the question for athletic director Pat Haden has become whether to keep Orgeron, whose is popular with the players – and is more and more popular with the fan base. Or does Haden, who is reported to have a $6 million contract at his disposal, go for the “splash” hire?

USC is one of the best jobs in college football. The Trojans have won 11 national championships, produced six Heisman trophy winners, and have the financial resources to meet or beat any other school in the nation in terms of recruiting and facilities.

There are very good reasons to keep Ed Orgeron, with his relationship with the team atop the list. There are also reasons not to keep Orgeron, like his record at his only other head coaching stop, Mississippi – 10-25. There is also the Bill Stewart factor. When Rich Rodriguez bolted West Virginia for Michigan at the end of the 2007 season, the folksy assistant coach Bill Stewart took over the team as the interim coach, and promptly upset No. 3 Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Mountaineer fans fell in love with Stewart, who was asked to stay on. While Stewart enjoyed moderate success, he never matched the magic of his one great game as the interim coach.

So, does Pat Haden go with a national name (Jack Del Rio? Jon Gruden?), and perhaps face a backlash from the players and fans for not keeping Orgeron? Or does Haden remove the “interim” tag from Orgeron’s title, with the hope that the inspired play of 2013 is just a prelude for even greater success down the road?

And what impact, if any, does all of this have on the USC players, as they prepare for the final two games of Orgeron’s “interim” career?

P – Preparation / Schedule

Left for dead at the end of September, the once 3-2 (and 0-2 in Pac-12 play) USC Trojans are now 5-2 in conference play, and still in the hunt for a Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl berth.

USC will need some help, though, to get to the title game, and their hopes may be dashed before the USC/CU game has been decided.

Arizona State is 6-1 in Pac-12 play, with UCLA and USC tied for second at 5-2. If Arizona State defeats UCLA this weekend, the Sun Devils win the Pac-12 South, eliminating both UCLA and USC from contention.

The Arizona State/UCLA kicks off at 5:00 p.m., MT, on Saturday, a full 2 1/2 hours before the CU/USC game begins. As the Trojan players are focusing on their pregame preparations, the Folsom Field scoreboard will provide continuous updates from Los Angeles. If the Sun Devils have the game in hand against the Bruins by the third quarter, the Trojans could take the field against the Buffs knowing that their chances of playing in the Rose Bowl have already come to an end.

Conversely, if UCLA defeats Arizona State, USC still has a chance at a Pac-12 title if they can defeat rival UCLA next weekend at home in the Coliseum (the Trojans would still need some help, as Arizona State would also have to lose to Arizona next weekend after falling to UCLA).

This scenario creates the potential  for a classic “trap game” for USC. A huge game against Stanford last weekend, followed by a huge game against the hated Bruins next weekend, with only little ‘ol Colorado in between. It would be only natural to want to look past the CU game – to be played in the cold, at night, at altitude – and forward to a game in front of 90,000 supporters back home in sunny California.

Will the USC players be “disinterested” enough in playing the Buffs to come out flat? Can Colorado take advantage of the Trojans’ indifference?

We’ll see …

Meanwhile, Colorado has a Senior Day game which still holds – for a change – significance. With Utah’s quarterback, Travis Wilson, out for the season with concussion issues, and the Utes having the potential of riding what could be a five-game losing streak into their game against the Buffs (Utah plays on the road against Washington State this weekend, with the Cougars qualifying for their first bowl since 2003 with a win over the Utes), all of the sudden a victory in the Utah game does not look as unreasonable as it did just a few weeks ago.

A bowl bid, while still on the outskirts of rational thinking, at least remains a possibility for the University of Colorado.

So, a mildly motivated USC team going up against a highly motivated CU team … at night … in the cold … at altitude.

Probably not enough for the Buffs to win … but there is always a chance.

 S – Statistics

While the CU football team is edging towards respectability in some of its national rankings (only eight categories in the 100’s this week!), it’s probably best to continue to focus upon the positive statistics:

Paul Richardson watch

– With 140 receiving yards last weekend, Richardson set a new standard for single season receiving yards, with 1,201 for the year (old record: 1,149, Charles E. Johnson, 1992);

– Richardson remains in a tie for second on the single season touchdown list, with 9 … Countdown to single season record: 2 (school record: 11, Derek McCoy, 2003) … Richardson, with 20 career receiving touchdowns, is also two shy of that record. Countdown to career record: 2 (school record: 22, Scotty McKnight, 2007-10).

– With his 11 receptions against Cal, Richardson moved into fourth place on the single season list, with 71 … Countdown to single season record: 7 (school record: 78, D.J. Hackett, 2003).

– Richardson is also moving up the list for all-time reception yardage. Richardson has 2,270 career receiving yards, good enough for 3rd on the all-time list … Countdown to the all-time receiving yardage record: 251 (school record: 2,548 yards, Michael Westbrook, 1991-94).

Addison Gillam watch …

– Gillam has 99 tackles on the season, already the single season record for a freshman (old record: 85, Matt Russell, 1993).

– Gillam is on track to become the first freshman in school history to lead the team in tackles (second on the team currently is Derrick Webb, with 74).

– Gillam has also moved up the list for number of plays on defense by a true freshman. Gillam has been on the field for 704 plays this fall, second on the all-time list, behind only teammate Greg Henderson (823 plays in 2011). (Note … Chidobe Awuzie is also moving up the list, currently at No. 5 with 541 plays).

Chidera Uzo-Diribe watch

– Diribe has forced five fumbles this season, and has ten in his career. With his next forced fumble, he will tie Brian Cabral (1974-77) and Barry Remington (1982-86) for the all-time record (11). With two more forced fumbles, Uzo-Diribe will tie Jashon Sykes (1999) for the single season record (7).

Running back watch …

– Three weeks ago, Christian Powell became the 50th player in Colorado history to rush for over 1,000 yards in his career. Powell now has 1,200 yards rushing, good enough for 37th on the all-time list.

– Up next: Tony Jones. With 843 yards rushing in his career, Jones is 55th on the all-time rushing yardage list … Countdown to becoming the 51st Buff with 1,000 career rushing yards: 157.

– Freshman Michael Adkins, with 434 yards, has now joined the all-time list, coming in at No. 100.

It will be Senior Day this Saturday against USC. Sixteen CU seniors – and probably junior Paul Richardson – will run behind Ralphie at Folsom Field for the final time. With the weather and the calendar (CU students have Thanksgiving week off. Their last day of classes is Friday) conspiring against the Buffs, there will be a smaller crowd on hand for these seniors than they deserve.

This class has been through a great deal, and deserve the support of the Buff Nation.

Thanks for everything, seniors. Here’s hoping you have a great Saturday night at Folsom!



2 Replies to “No. 23 USC at CU – A Preview”

  1. Only 13 players on “D”? At altitude??? (I remember playing intermural FB in grad school, where the no. of plays was pre-set at 50, irrespective of who had the ball. One week we were short-handed and I had to be in for all fifty plays—I thought I was gonna die after 30 or so plays and I was in great shape then from playing racquetball!!)

    Anybody watching games at Folsom this year should have noticed the continuous stream of defensive subs from virtually every opponent. AZ was subbing their entire DL and a couple LBs on alternate plays.

    We’ll see if the Condoms’ “Mighty 13” can hold up in the cold and altitude!

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