No. 21 Colorado at USC – A Preview … “T.I.P.S.” for CU’s attempt to break a ten-game losing streak

Okay, raise your hand if you predicted six weeks ago that CU would be ranked heading into their road trip against USC, and that the Trojans would be unranked?

Liar.

This past July, when league beat reporters attended the Pac-12 Media Days in Los Angeles, they were asked to predict the Pac-12 standings this fall. USC came in a close second in the Pac-12 South voting, coming in just behind UCLA (180-173). Colorado, meanwhile, was picked to finish last (again), with 63 total votes.

When the preseason Associated Press poll came out, the Trojans were penciled in as the No. 20 team in the nation (No. 17 in the USA Today coaches poll). Colorado, as has been the case for over a decade, was nowhere to be seen.

Fast forward to October, where the Pac-12 South leading Buffs are ranked No. 21 in the AP poll (No. 23 in the USA Today poll), and USC, in fifth place in the Pac-12 South, is barely on the national radar (No. 43 in USA Today poll … nowhere to be found in the AP poll listing).

Colorado, which has never beaten USC in ten attempts, is listed as a 5.0-point underdog to the Trojans.

Is this the week that Colorado will be brought down to reality by a resurgent USC squad? Or will the Buffs’ quixotic run to national prominence continue with yet another “1-0” week?

We’ll see …

 

Here are this week’s “T.I.P.S.” for No. 21 Colorado at USC … Saturday, 2:00 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Networks

T – Talent 

Where to start?

After a 1-3 start, USC fans are once again expressing confidence in their program, and freshman quarterback Sam Darnold has had a great deal to do with that. Darnold took over for the previous starter, Max Browne, two games ago, and has preformed well. Against Utah and Arizona State, Darnold went 41-of-59 (.695) for 605 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Darnold’s favorite target is All-American candidate JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has collected all three of Darnold’s touchdown passes the past two games (all three coming during last week’s 41-20 rout of Arizona State). Smith-Schuster already has 26 catches for 320 yards and five touchdowns on the season. A up-and-coming threat is Deontay Burnett, who had seven catches for 93 yards against the Sun Devils.

The rushing attack is led by senior Justin Davis, who had 902 yards rushing last year, and has back-to-back 100-yard games the past two weeks.

Overall, however, the USC offense has been a disappointment. The Trojans are 10th in the Pac-12 (85th nationally) in total offense (391.6 ypg.), and 10th in the Pac-12 (88th nationally) in scoring offense (25.8 ppg.).

The USC defense had its best game of the season against Arizona State, holding the Sun Devils out of the end zone until after the Trojans had built a 41-6 lead.

One significant reason for the rout of the Sun Devils – an improved pass rush. After failing to touch either Ryan Burns of Stanford or Troy Williams of Utah, USC decided that getting pressure on the quarterback was a priority, then did just that.

USC hit ASU quarterbacks with different looks and blitzes. Before he left the game with an injury, Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins was sacked three times, hurried twice, and was flustered by the Trojan defense.

Even taking into account the ugly numbers from the lopsided 52-6 to Alabama in the opener, USC is in the top half of the Pac-12 in total defense (376.2 ypg. – 53rd nationally) and in scoring defense (27.4 ppg. – 64th nationally).

And, oh yeah, once again Buff fans must be wary of special teams play.

USC has the nation’s eighth-best kickoff returner in Adoree Jackson (31.1 yards per return), while the Trojans as a team lead the entire nation in punt returns, averaging 25.29 yards per return (Colorado, meanwhile, is 127th – second to last in the country – in net punting).

 

I – Intangibles

Against Oregon State, CU wide receiver Shay Fields tied a school record with three touchdown receptions – all in the first half.

If he had his way, Fields would love to have a repeat performance this weekend against USC. Fields, a four-star prospect from Bellflower, California, was at one time committed to USC. Amidst a coaching change at USC, however, the Trojans cooled on Fields, who wound up signing with Colorado.

When asked if the USC game was a special game for him, Fields was diplomatic. “Not really,” he said. “It’s just a normal game. We just have to be ready, be focused. We’ll have good days of practice this week and come out ready to play on Saturday.”

Linebacker Rick Gamboa, from Slymar, California, also refused to take the bait of a revenge motive. “Maybe during my freshman year I was more motivated to play against USC just because I was from there”, said Gamboa.  “At this point it’s not really about that, it’s about going out there and no matter who we play just wanting to get a win and playing great defense.”

While the “go 1-0 this week” and “Colorado is the most important team on the schedule” mantras have worked well so far this year, the Buffs can be forgiven if they are just a little more motivated this week.

“How many times has Colorado played USC? 10. How many times have they beat them? Zero”, said Mike MacIntyre. “So, we have to earn our respect, there’s no doubt about it. It’s fun to do something that’s never been done. Hopefully we can do that. I think you always need a little bit of a chip on your shoulder in whatever you do. I think it gives you an added advantage.”

Perhaps it will …

 

P – Preparation/Schedule

In all of the preseason magazines, it was declared that USC would face the nation’s toughest schedule this fall. Out of the 12 teams the Trojans would face in 2016, it was noted, 11 played in bowl games in 2015.

The lone exception? The one team USC had on the schedule which didn’t participate in a bowl game in 2015?

Colorado.

Now, instead of becoming the easiest out in the Trojans’ schedule, the Buffs present a real test. Colorado will be the fourth ranked team USC has faced in six games, with the Trojans losing to the other three ranked teams they have faced so far.

The other three losses – to No. 1 Alabama, No. 7 Stanford, and No. 24 Utah – were all on the road (the Alabama game played in Arlington, Texas). While a tough set of contests, USC’s first opponents (with the exception of Alabama) have not proven to be world-beaters. Stanford, which beat USC 27-10, is now coming off a 44-6 loss to Washington. Utah, which beat USC 31-27, is now coming off a 28-23 loss to Cal.

It is also true that CU’s early season opponents have not done exceptionally well (with the exception of Michigan). Colorado State is 2-3, and was just humbled at home, 38-17, by Wyoming. Oregon had its (multi-colored) hat handed to it, 51-33, by Washington State. And Oregon State … well, the Beavers are where the Buffs were a few years ago, when staying competitive into the second half was the only realistic hope.

So, which team is better?

The 2-3 Trojans, who seemingly righted their ship with a dominating win over previously unbeaten Arizona State?

Or the 4-1 Buffs, who have to date withstood every challenge, but are still 0-10 all-time against USC, and who have a 4-25 record in Pac-12 play under Mike MacIntyre?

 

S – Statistics

We’re almost halfway through the season, and have two games in Pac-12 play in the books.

If Colorado was destined to return to earth after posting some other-worldly statistics to open the season, it hasn’t happened yet.

A total of 14 major statistical categories tracked are by the Pac-12 in their weekly press release. There, the league charts whether any of the conference’s teams are ranked in the top 25 nationally.

Out of those 14 categories, Colorado finds itself ranked in the top 25 in eight (second only in the conference to Washington, which is ranked in nine of the 14 categories), including:

— Passing offense – 312.6 ypg. … 19th nationally

— Total offense – 531.2 ypg. … 9th nationally

— Scoring offense – 43.2 ppg. … 16th nationally

— Passing yards allowed – 150.4 ypg. … 9th nationally

— Total defense – 290.4 ypg. … 13th nationally

— Turnover margin – +.80 … 23rd nationally

Meanwhile, in those same 14 categories, USC is ranked in the top 25 nationally in only two (though they could play a significant role in Saturday’s game):

— Punt returns – 25.29 ypr. … 1st nationally

— Kickoff returns – 25.41 ypr. … 23rd nationally

If you are only looking at the stats, it’s hard not to like the Buffs’ chances.

 

Prediction … When it comes to which quarterback will start against USC, the Colorado coaches are almost in a no-win situation.

If Liufau plays, and the Buffs lose, it will be because the Buff coaches failed to go with the hot hand.

If Montez plays, and the Buffs lose, it will be because the Buff coaches failed to go with the experienced leader.

“We’re going to play it out through the week, then see how healthy Sefo [Liufau] is,” said Mike MacIntyre. “It’ll really be a game-time decision again on how we do it all. Sefo’s health is the biggest key in it.”

This just in … Colorado is going to lose again this season. When the Buffs do lose, the quarterback decision will be (over) scrutinized.

In case you missed it, Colorado is swimming upstream against history this weekend. The Buffs are 0-10 all-time against USC, with a 2-19-1 all-time record in games played in the state of California (last win v. UCLA in 2002). Mike MacIntyre is sitting on a 14-28 record at Colorado, with a 3-15 record in road games.

Yet – at least so far – the 2016 season has been one where the Buffs are oblivious to history.

This could be the season the Buffs break the streak against the Trojans. This could be the season when Colorado – finally – posts a “W” against USC. After all, this year’s team is better than last year’s, and the 2015 Buffs almost beat USC, falling 27-24 after building a 17-3 first half advantage. Had Sefo Liufau not been injured in that game … who knows?

Since that game in Boulder last November, USC has gone 3-6. The Trojans of late haven’t been the Trojans of old …

Perhaps I am just too beaten down by ten years of losing. Perhaps it is the decal on the opposing helmet that has my view skewed. Perhaps it’s because USC looked so good against Arizona State last weekend.

The Buffs have done everything any reasonable fan could have asked from them through the first five games of the season.

It will be hard to meet the Buff Nation’s new found expectations every week … I’m going with reason instead of emotion.

A special teams letdown breaks the Buff Nation’s hearts:

USC 27, Colorado 24. 

 

—–

 

 

10 Replies to “No. 21 CU at USC – A Preview”

  1. This one is REALLY simple. CU needs this one to stay in the South Title chase. USC needs this one to stay in the South Title chase. This is football Mano a Mano !!! If the Buff’s can pass this test, I think they will take the PAC 12 South.

    NOTHING OF COURSE is REALLY as SIMPLE as it seems.

    I just want the Buff’s to play 2016 CU Football and see where that takes us.

    I think that will take us to a W. CU 31 – USC 27

  2. This year is different…Coach Chiv is the wildcard on O., Chido the X factor on D….
    Even with a healthy Sefo, you keep him in the closer role and roll with The El Paso Kid until you HAVE to make a change
    Expect new wrinkles on both sides of the ball.
    And a buff win.
    Changing of the guard…..Buffs 31-20, with a defensive score

  3. Pretty much predicted that the Buffs would be 3 and 2 at this point. (You can babble all ya want), The Ducks were supposed to pound the Buffs. But alas never look a gift-duck in the bill. Course the Buffs took that gift cause they wanted it. Instead 4 and 1

    Now the “rubber”-matchup? Pretty much predicted that after this game the Buffs would be 3 and 3. But even if “Stuart-the-webmaster” is correct the worse the Buffs can be is 4 and 2. 3-3 would have been okay. 4 and 2 is outstanding. 5 and 1 means the year 4 pressure is correct. No excuses.

    Now the “rubber-matchup” The trojs need to win this game. They have to win this game. 3 conference losses will bury them in the south. The still have Cal, Oregon, UCLA, Washington and Arizona, At least a couple of losses in there.

    Now the Buffs with 2 conference wins recorded can afford this loss. Not that they won’t win, but they still will be in prime position. After this game 4 home games and 2 away games. Other than Stanford wins are available in all the other 5 games. That is 7 and 2 in the conference. Very probable

    Midnote: Can they beat Stanford. Maybe. Hope they do. Hopefully they won’t need it to win the south. Expect them to whip Arizona. 2 and 2 on the road in conference. Amazing.

    Go Buffs, it is all right there. Take it.

  4. Buffs beat the spread. CU-35 USC-28

    It doesn’t make any difference who starts at QB….. we have a double barreled cannon. Montez ? Liufau ? Makes no difference. We rock !

    Go Herd.

  5. Hope the BUFFS don’t look past the Trojans they aren’t as bad as they seem. Still like the BUFFS in this one. CU 32 USC 26 GO BUFFS!!!!!

  6. Yo Stuart,

    Gotta keep the faith. Just like the Oregon game, the past don’t mean squat. Everybody around the country keeps ragging on Oregon, but the fact remains that team is 1 1/2 seasons from playing in the National Championship game. They are very good, but any team in the Pac-12 can beat any other. That’s why they play the games.

    As for USC… yes, their roster is full of 4 and 5 star athletes (just like Oregon and Michigan), but that does not make them a good team. It just means those players were really good in high school.

    Playing in the Coliseum will be downright quiet compared to playing in Autzen Stadium in Eugene or the Big House in Ann Arbor. That said, the Buffs should not expect to have trouble hearing their QB.

    They key to this game is Colorado. If they play smart TEAM ball they will win. Period. If the Buffs turn the ball over and get burned on special teams, USC can win.

    The Trojans are not very good this year. Yes, they scored 41 points on Arizona State, but the Sun Devils have given up an AVERAGE of 41 points a game to their FBS opponents, including 55 to Texas Tech. So I am not impressed by USC scoring the same. Yes, ASU was undefeated… but one of the worst undefeated teams in the country.

    The same goes for their freshman QB. The young man is very talented. EVERY guy in the Trojan team is talented, that’s why they got scholly’s to USC. But one good game against a bad defense does not make him great. He’s still a freshman and will be more prone to mistakes from defensive pressure.

    Michigan is a great team, a great defense, and a top 5 team. Colorado would have won that game if not for punting woes and Sefo’s injury. CU has been the only team this year to take it the Wolverines offensively. If USC went to Ann Arbor, Michigan would take them to the woodshed.

    Once again. Last year doesn’t equal this year. And 10 years or more certainly has NOTHING to do with this year’s Buffaloes. Colorado can and SHOULD win this game. It doesn’t mean they will, of course. But if they do lose, chances are they can look in the mirror to see the cause.

    I see the Buffs winning this handily if they play well.

    GO BUFFS!

    Mark
    Boulderdevil

  7. I feel that the Buffs will (mostly) keep this game in focus just like the previous ones. There are bound to be some distractions for the local kids with family in the stands and being from the area watching USC when they grew up. But, once the game starts, I feel that they will be OK. Given all of the years of losing to USC and my dislike for them, I really want to see the win so this prediction has more heart in it than previous predictions. But: USC has not seen an offense like ours. Nor have they seen a defense like ours. And their so called adversity is short lived, the Buffs mettle has been tested and their will and hunger sharpened over several years. CU 31 USC 27

  8. booo
    Our secondary is up to the task.
    Just hope the O line is. Hopefully their practice against the Leavitt blitz packages will see them through.
    Atkins will provide the extra bit to take us over the top and beat em by the reverse of your score Stuart

  9. Oh Stuart,
    I am so sorry you lost your faith…… Let me give you some food for thought to help bolster your moral.

    The match ups favor CU.
    CU’s Offense versus USC Defense
    CU’s offense has shown no real signs of slowing down. Yes, the majority of our games were against sub-par opponents but in the big house against a top 5 team the team put up 28 points in 31 minutes. Most of our production is in the air. This is the key match up. While CU’s running attack is respectable it is the big chunk plays through the air and the efficiency of our passing offense is really good. USC has yet to play against a high powered passing offense but ASU is a run dominated team and once the run was eliminated they could not really adjust. The ASU quarterback held the ball a little too long and the ASU route tree looked a lot like CU’s last year. USC contained Utah’s running attack, it was when they got desperate and started passing that Utah won the game. I watched both games and I saw receivers on both teams beating their db’s deep and on slant routes. I predict the Buffs will amplify these holes in their defense. On the blitzes both Sefo and Montez are playing within the scheme well (Sefo a bit better as expected) and they are getting the ball out of their hands quickly and attacking the blitzing holes well. I predict USC’s defense will not get to either quarterback. The one comment I have here is that I do not think Montez’s feet will make as much of a difference in this game as Oregon as the USC linebackers are much better than Oregon’s.
    No CU’s defense versus USC Offense:
    Yes USC has some talented play makers. Their backs are really fast and Juju is a freak of nature. Their quarterback is really good throwing into zone coverage. While he had some successes I could see throwing into man with Juju most of the key plays were thrown into zone. We run a lot of man coverage so our goal will be to contain juju while we run man coverage. We have played to high power offenses to date: Oregon has a pretty high powered offense as well. So does Michigan. 21 of the Michigan points were given up on special teams. USC when playing against solid defenses scored 10 points and 27 points (with the new quarterback). They are going to score, they are going to get some points. But CU has played the level of talent that USC has and come out on top before.

    I predict CU throws up 42 points and USC only gathers in 33.

    One last point, CU has beat the spread every week by more than 10 points. The spread is 5-7 points. beating the spread by 10 gives us a win by 3.

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