Colorado vs. USC – A Preview … Your paraskevidekatriaphobia “T.I.P.S.” for Friday the 13th

As if the Buffs needed something else to worry about …

It’s not enough that Colorado will be facing a USC team which is on a roll, winning its last three games under interim head coach Clay Helton.

It’s not enough that USC owns a 9-0 record over Colorado in the all-time series, with the Trojans scoring at least 40 points in each of the last five meetings.

But the game has to be on national television (7:00 p.m., Friday, ESPN2)?

On Friday the 13th?

Oh well, perhaps there are enough Trojans suffering from paraskevidekatriaphobia – that’s a fear of Friday the 13th, for those scoring at home – to keep them from playing their best.

Perhaps the colder temperatures – in the 30’s for much of the game – will distract the Trojan players from the task at hand.

Keep reaching … the Buffs need all the help they can get.

Here are this week’s “T.I.P.S.”, the Friday the 13th version …


T – Talent

Another week, another star player exciting about coming to Boulder.

Last week, it was Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey.

This week, it’s USC quarterback Cody Kessler.

No, not because Kessler has a connection to the state of Colorado (he played his high school football in Bakersfield, California), it’s just that Kessler has fond memories of the black-and-gold.

Last season, Kessler set a school record for touchdown passes in a game, with seven against the Buffs in a 56-28 rout (to add insult to injury, the record Kessler broke belonged to Matt Barkley, who had six touchdown passes against – you guessed it – Colorado, in 2011). Kessler had four touchdown passes in the first quarter against the CU secondary, as the Trojans built a 28-0 first quarter lead and coasted from there.

This season, Kessler has passed for over 2,500 yards, with 20 touchdowns to only five interceptions.

Nelson Agholor, who had three touchdown receptions against the Buffs last year, has moved on to the NFL, but Kessler is certainly not lacking for weapons. JuJu Smith-Schuster has already passed the century mark this fall, with 60 receptions for 1,094 yards and nine touchdowns (the sophomore had surgery on his hand last week, but had eight catches against Arizona, and is expected to play Friday night).

Ronald Jones II is USC’s leading rusher, with 723 yards and six touchdowns … and an amazing 8.0 yards per carry. Last weekend against Arizona, Jones had 19 carries for 177 yards … a 9.3 yards per carry average (and Jones has been listed behind Tre Madden and Justin Davis on the depth chart all season … damn).

The USC defense is not quite as amazing as its offense, giving up almost 400 yards per game (66th nationally). The Trojans are led by Su’a Cravens, who is one of ten semi-finalists for the Butkus Award this fall (Cravens was dinged up against Arizona, but is expected to be available to play against Colorado). Cravens, who considers himself a “safety playing linebacker”, has been called the “best defender in the Pac-12” by Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham.

As you might expect from a lineup composed almost exclusively of four- and five-star prospects, there are not too many holes in the USC defense for the Buffs to exploit.



I – Intangibles

And the weather isn’t cooperating, either.

Mike MacIntyre Monday jokingly asked for “25 inches of snow on the ground and negative windchill” … but he won’t get it.

The forecast for Friday in Boulder is about as good as you could hope for in mid-November, with a sunny day of 51-degrees turning into a star-filled evening with the temperatures in the 30’s during the game.

The mild temperatures might help the “blackout” planned by CU get the crowd into the 40,000’s (CU needs just over 41,500 to avoid its third-straight season of below 40,000 in average attendance … which last happened in 1983-85), but it probably wouldn’t have hurt the Buffs’ chances to have the game played in a blizzard.

Colorado, even with its anemic 83-yard rushing effort against Stanford (43 of those yards by Sefo Liufau), is still ranked above USC in rushing offense (the Buffs are 49th nationally in rushing; the Trojans are 59th), so poor weather grounding the USC air attack wouldn’t have been altogether bad.

Still, even though the forecast is favorable, the Trojan wide receivers are still a bit leery. “It’s pretty tricky because your hands are kind of frozen,” sophomore Steven Mitchell Jr., who is from Pasadena and played at Mission Hills Alemany High, told the Los Angeles Times.

Let’s hope it’s just cold enough for the USC players to just want to get the game over with … giving the Buffs a chance to hang around long enough to give them hope of an upset.

… What else might the Buffs have going for them? …

Well, it will be senior night, with 15 Buff players running out behind Ralphie for the last time. One last chance at a Pac-12 victory at home … which would double the home conference win total for these seniors to two, the only other home conference win in the past four seasons coming against Cal in 2013.

Want to hear a sad quote? Nelson Spruce, the Buffs’ record-setting wide receiver, was asked to name a particularly memorable moment at Folsom.

He couldn’t do it.

“Not one that sticks out,” Spruce said earlier this week. “That’s why I’m trying to make this one special. One big win, especially in my last home game, would be awesome.”

That’s really sad. Four years … no valuable memories.

… Well, there’s always the cool uniforms. The Buffs will be wearing black uniforms and gold helmets – a good look for the ESPN audience.










P – Preparation / Schedule

The Trojan players could be forgiven if they are looking past the Buffs.

Since falling to Notre Dame in interim head coach Clay Helton’s debut, the Trojans have rattled off three straight wins, taking down previously unbeaten Utah before having their way with Cal and Arizona.

The next two games for USC after taking on Colorado?

On the road against Oregon, and then the regular season finale at home against UCLA. With big time rivals on the horizon, do you think the Trojans are worried about the Buffs?

Probably not.

Especially when you consider the scores of the USC/Colorado games since the Buffs joined the Pac-12 … 42-17, 50-6, 47-29 and 56-28.

It’s hard to take an opponent seriously when you haven’t been challenged.

So the Buffs have that going for them, which is nice.

… The short week should, at least in theory, help the home team. Both teams played at home last weekend, but the Colorado doesn’t have a travel day this week to worry about, giving the Buffs a little extra prep time. The NCAA-mandated day off this week for the team will be Saturday, with the Buffs practicing every day this week leading up to the USC game.

… Then there is this little thing known as the “Pac-12 South standings”.

The Buff Nation has been waiting for four years for someone in the Pac-12 South to back up a bit, and both Arizona schools are doing their best of late to be accommodating. Both the Wildcats and Sun Devils are on three-game losing streaks. Arizona State is 4-5, 2-4 in Pac-12 play, while Arizona is 5-5, 2-5.

This weekend, Arizona State hosts Washington, while Arizona hosts No. 10 Utah. It’s not inconceivable that both Arizona schools will lose on Saturday. If that were the case, and Colorado were to upset USC, the standings would read:

Colorado … 5-6 … 2-5

Arizona … 4-6 … 2-5

Arizona … 5-6 … 2-6

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Buffs would be in fourth place in the Pac-12.

Dare to dream …


S – Statistics

Pac-12 statistical categories in which Colorado is ranked higher than USC:

– Rushing offense: Colorado 5th in the Pac-12 (183.8 ypg.); USC 8th (174.4);

– Pass defense: Colorado 5th (219.3 ypg.); USC 8th (254.8);

– Punting: Colorado 9th (36.4 net); USC 10th (35.3);

– Kickoff returns: Colorado 6th (22.4 ypr.); USC 12th (18.9);

– First downs: Colorado 2nd (23.4 per game); USC 9th (22.2); and

– Time of possession: Colorado 3rd (31:29); USC 7th (28:43).

… and that’s about it.

You will note that there are several significant omissions from the list, items like: scoring offense (USC is 18th in the nation; CU 73rd); scoring defense (USC is 37th; CU 77th); total offense (USC is 25th; CU 46th) and total defense (USC is 66th; CU 91st).

You can’t have everything.

Other freaky stats heading into Friday the 13th … USC is 9th in the nation in turnover margin … the Trojans are 18th in the nation in passing offense … Colorado is down to 110th in rushing defense … the Buffs are all the way down to 119th in the country in red zone scoring percentage.

… And then there is this … Neither Colorado nor USC have ever played a football game on Friday the 13th … but Colorado is 13-3 all-time in games played on November 13th, including nine straight wins dating back to 1954 (remember the 38-31 win over Kansas State in 2004, when Joel Klatt hit Ron Monteilh for a 64-yard touchdown with 16 seconds left? You can read the game recap, and watch the highlight of the final play, in the CU at the Game Archives).


Prediction … The Buffs have been frustratingly slow off the mark in Pac-12 play so far this season. Colorado has yet to own a lead at the end of the first quarter or at halftime in any of its six conference games. Overall this season, the Buffs have been out-scored 91-66 in the first quarter. That doesn’t bode well when the Buffs are taking on a team which was up on them, 28-0, at the end of the first quarter in the 56-28 rout in Los Angeles last fall.

It will be Senior Night for the Buffs this Friday. There will be a blackout in the stands. The Buffs will be on ESPN for only the second time this season.

If the Buffs can’t get pumped up for this game … when will they?

I can see the Buffs playing well in the first quarter, just as they did against Stanford. For Colorado to stay in the game, however, they will have to have some lucky breaks, and gain some turnovers (against a team has lost only eight turnovers all season, 10th-lowest total in the nation).

The Buffs might have been able to count on the USC players looking past them, and forward to their game against Oregon next week. The problem is that the USC coaching staff won’t look past the Colorado game. For better or worse, interim coach Clay Helton are auditioning for jobs next fall, either with USC or another team. They have a very real financial stake in keeping the Trojans looking impressive.

I’m afraid that they will.

… USC 45, Colorado 21 …



9 Replies to “CU v. USC – A Preview”

  1. Sure would love to see the BUFFS take em down tonight.Unfortunately the TROJANS are just better.I think they will play it close but will fall eventually.
    USC 35 – COLORADO 24

  2. Thanks Stuart for the entertaining writeup this week. I think CU scores more points this week against the USC D. Buffs defense plays their hearts out. I predict USC 38 Colorado 27. I’ll be at the game and so I also predict I’ll freeze my butt off.

  3. 2 Factors take the Buff’s to an upset victory. This will be a COLD weather game @ altitude for the Trojans. In a number of ways, these next 3 games will be this years Bowl game(s) for the Buffs. AND FOR GOOD MEASURE, SURELY IT IS TIME FOR SOME GOOD OLD Whitehair paraskevidekatriaphobia !!!

    CU 24 – USC 21

  4. USC 42 CU 17. USC has superior talent and momentum. CU has poor play calling and offensive execution, particularly in clutch situations. I would like nothing better than being wrong.

  5. Stu – from the original Trivial Pursuit game, I remember the term being “triskaidekaphobia” (I won that round, by way). Regardless, I feel the Buffs are on the cusp and ready for an upset – this week, or next, but soon!

  6. Yo Stuart,
    Nice write up. Maybe the Buffs should water the field as the sun is going down and hope it gets real slick! Not really, of course.

    These Trojans are not the dominant type of USC team that everyone loves to loathe. They haven’t been for a long time. Since the start of the 2009 season, they are a very pedestrian 59-28. Good enough for a bowl every year but no longer a player for the national championship.

    Compare that with their record of 82-9 from 2002-2008 when the were the Big Dog of the college football world. Three Trojans took home the Heisman Trophy in a four year stretch.

    If the Buffs want to EVER win against USC, they have to quit playing the ghosts of Trojan glory past. Since joining the Pac-12, the Buffs have gotten glassy-eyed playing USC every year even though the Trojans have not been very good by USC standards.

    The USC record since 2009 is really only as good as it is because lots of teams, Colorado included, lay down for them once they see that Trojan helmet and uniform. They do not believe in their hearts that they can beat USC unless the Trojans play horribly and have that combined with a perfect game from themselves. They set a standard that can never be met and the go into the game against ‘SC believing they will lose, and the expectation comes through every time.

    I could blame Lindgren in advance but at least for him he calls plays poorly against almost everyone. He likes to play from behind and his play calling on the rare occasions the Buffs lead a Conference foe seems oddly planned to make sure the lead is as short-lived as possible. I expect no different this weekend.

    Even though everyone is all a flutter over a 3 game win streak from USC. Those Trojans used to have much longer win streaks. And back then it was wise to fear them. These days, there is nothing to fear but fear itself. And I fear that fear will continue.


  7. So I just finished watching the Arizona -usc game and frankly I was not all that impressed. CU can win this game. I think it is up to Lindgren to call a good game and Leavitt to limit the explosive plays. Here are some things I saw:
    1. Don’t run the wide receiver screen. Don’t bother. The use defense is awesome at covering it. Cu is not that good at running it. If we do run it we’ll gain a yard at most and likely lose yards.
    2. When usc has 7 in the box you cannot run in the middle out of the spread. Arizona tried multiple times and usc stones them every time. On the other side of this their linebackers are really aggressive towards the run in this formation and their defensive line is not rushing the passer. There is an opportunity there to get Irwin or Frazier wide open in the middle of the field. You have to have a strong run fake. I think if you ran this out of a wide pro set with 1 tight end you might get a huge play.
    3. Used isn’t as fast to the edges as you might expect and their outside linebacker misses a couple of tackles he should have made. I might try Lindsey just off tackle with Frazier pulling from the other side to try and land a block. Carr with his speed here as well. Adkins if he can play of course. Running really wide is a loss though. If the runner can’t put there foot in the ground right outside the tackle the pursuit is too good.
    4. Leavitt needs to make sure his db’s are thinking go first. Kessler gets the ball out to his deep receivers pretty quick.
    5. Blitz Kessler from different angles with slightly delayed blitzes. The use line does not seem to react well to blitzes straight up the gut from a blitzed coming a second later.
    6. Outside contain is going to be key. The running backs are fast once they get to the edge.

    So I have said a lot so far about what I would avoid. Here are some things I think might work.
    1. Play action pass. The usc linebackers crash down pretty hard.
    2. From the spread formation usc will sometimes show a 3 -4 with one of the outside linebackers way out. Running between the tackles is possible here and will generally produce 4-5 yards consistently. Throwing against the extra db’s in this formation is going to be tough.
    3. I have seen some 3rd and shorts though where the db is playing far enough off a grab the snap and throw will probably work to get you that 2 yards you need.
    4. Don’t abandon the run. Arizona did. That is why they lost. You are going to have to throw it when they have 7 in the box ( unless you find you can run double tight and have success here. ) Out of the spread though you need to almost automatically check to a pass play here. Even a quick out. I would love to see a play action pass here as I think they sell out to hard on the run.
    5. Arizona was running a quick toss sweep that had success. I have seen this run with Lindsey and I think it would work as well.
    6. From the pro set the naked bootleg will work for a long pass down the middle.

    This game is winnable. Lindgren needs to call a better game but this defense has holes. If Leavitt and the d can limit the explosive plays I think the have a real shot.

    1. Sadly all I had to read was “1. Don’t run the wide receiver screen” and then I know the game is lost. Seriously, thanks for sharing, good stuff.

  8. this game is played like the 2014 UCLA game last year!!! only this time we finish!!!!

    45-42 COLORADO/OT

    Everything comes together and clicks!!!!

    talent is the only thing keeping USC in the game. CU plays pure emotion and out of their minds!

    One can dream

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