October 25th – Boulder           USC 35, Colorado 31

Senior quarterback Steven Montez set his 38th school record in starting his 32nd consecutive game, and for 45 minutes against USC, Montez looked like a hero. Montez threw for 324 yards and three touchdowns, running for a fourth, but it was not enough to keep Colorado from losing to USC for the 14th-consecutive time, falling 35-31 before 48,913 fans in Boulder.

The Trojans rallied from a ten-point fourth quarter deficit for the victory. USC quarterback Kedon Slovis hit wide receiver Michael Pittman for two touchdowns in the final 11 minutes – with the scores covering 44 and 37 yards – to take down the Buffs.

The Buffs had 520 yards of total offense to 518 for the Trojans, but couldn’t sustain drives in the fourth quarter. Laviska Shenault had nine receptions for 172 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown reception, but the effort was wasted as the CU defense failed to hold an opponent under 30 points for the 12th consecutive game.

“I said, ‘You can look at this two different ways. You can sit there and feel sorry for yourself and say woe is me. Or you can look at yourself and say this is the type of team we can have,'” Tucker said as to what he told his team in the locker room after the game. “If you take care of the ball, take it away, run the ball, finish in the red zone, stop the run and get off the field on third down, then you have a really good chance to beat anybody.”

The win kept USC atop the Pac-12 South standings, while the Buffs sunk lower into the Pac-12 South basement. The fourth consecutive loss left the Buffs with a 3-5 overall record, 1-4 in Pac-12 play.

Game StoryUSC entered the game as a two-touchdown favorite, and, with its opening drive, made the oddsmakers look spot on. It took the Trojans all of three plays and 59 seconds to take the lead with quarterback Kedon Slovis hitting wide receiver Amon-Ra Brown for a 37-yard touchdown and a 7-0 USC lead before many in the CU student section had found their way into Folsom Field.

The Buff offense did its best to respond, doing so in the more conventional way, taking 13 plays to cover 70 yards on its first drive. A face mask penalty gave CU its first first down of the game, but an 11-yard run by running back Alex Fontenot, a nine-yard completion from quarterback Steven Montez to wide receiver Laviska Shenault, and a nine-yard completion from Montez to Fontenot kept the Buffs on the move. The drive stalled, though, at the USC five yard line, with kicker James Stefanou connecting on a 22-yard field goal to make it a 7-3 game.

USC threatened to make it a two-score game on its next possession, again moving into Colorado territory in short order. At the CU 34, however, Slovis threw a pass which was intercepted by CU freshman cornerback K.J. Trujillo, giving the Buff Nation renewed hope.

On its next drive, the Buff offense did not disappoint. A pair of Steven Montez runs – one by design; one on a scramble – covered 28 yards to quickly put CU in plus-territory. Two completions from Montez to senior wideout Tony Brown, going for 12 and 18 yards, then gave the Buffs a first-and-goal at the USC two yard line. The Buffs appeared destined to have to settle for another field goal when the offensive line was twice called for false starts with Shenault at quarterback in the wildcat formation, but then, on the first play of the second quarter, Steven Montez hit K.D. Nixon for a seven-yard touchdown on third-and-goal. Colorado 10, USC 7.

The offensive showcase then settled down, with both teams punting the ball away in succession. The Buff defense forced consecutive three-and-outs from the Trojan offense, with the Buff offense taking over at its 35-yard line after the second punt still early in the second quarter.

Eight plays and 65 yards later, Colorado had a two-score lead.

A 33-yard completion from Montez to Shenault was the highlight of the drive, culminated on the second seven-yard touchdown pass from Montez to Nixon, this time on third-and-five, making it a 17-7 game with just under six minutes remaining in the first half.

The USC offense, with four yards in six plays on its previous two drives, put it back in high gear on its next drive. The only third down of the drive was crucial for the outcome of the game. On third-and-four at the CU 11-yard line, quarterback Kedon Slovis was forced from the pocket. He scrambled for a first down, but fumbled the ball at the Buff three-yard line. It could have been a game-changing turnover, but the Trojans recovered instead, scoring on the next play on a three-yard pass from Slovis to running back Kenan Christon.

Instead of a 17-7 game with the Buffs in possession, it was a 17-14 game late in the first half. The Buffs did push the ball out near midfield on its next drive, but had to punt the ball away in the final minute when a five-yard completion from Montez to Fontenot on third down came up a yard short of a first down, forcing a punt.

Halftime score: Colorado 17, USC 14

The second half opened with just as much fireworks as had the first.

The USC offense had required only three plays and 59 seconds to post the game’s first score, but the CU offense did the Trojans one better to open the third quarter. On the second play from scrimmage, Steven Montez hit a streaking Laviska Shenault for a 71-yard touchdown. Just 45 seconds into the second half, the Buffs were again up two scores, at 24-14.

The Trojans were not the least bit moved by the Buffs’ quick touchdown, scoring one of their own on USC’s first drive of the second half. Completions of 22, 26, and 21 yards, the latter being a 21-yard touchdown pass from Slovis to wide receiver Tyler Vaughn, made it a 24-21 game two minutes of game clock later.

A 33-yard kickoff return by K.D. Nixon set the Buffs up in good field position to open the next drive, with a 13-yard completion from Montez to Shenault pushing the ball into USC territory. The Buffs faced a fourth-and-two at the USC 34-yard line, but a 17-yard run by Laviska Shenault out of the wildcat formation gave CU a first down. Steven Montez posted a 17-yard run of his own on the next play, scoring with 9:16 still remaining in the third quarter. Colorado 31, USC 21.

As has been the case in the first half, the teams in the second half slowed their scoring pace as the half wore on. When USC missed a 40-yard field goal attempt on its next drive, the Buffs not only had the ball, but had the ball with a two-score lead. Montez completions of 19 yards to Shenault and 17 yards to running back Jaren Mangham put the ball at the USC 34 late in the third quarter, with the Buffs having a chance to push the lead out two three scores. Instead, a holding penalty (and a non-call against USC on a play in which Steven Montez was temporarily knocked out of the game) killed the momentum, with the Buffs ending up punting the ball away.

After the Buff defense forced USC’s third punt of the night, the Buffs opened the fourth quarter at its 37 yard line (thanks to a 27-yard run by third string quarterback Blake Stenstrom, who came into the game for the final play of the third quarter). Once again, however, a holding penalty killed the drive, forcing CU’s third punt in a row.

This time, the failure to put the game away cost the Buffs. USC needed only five plays to pull within a field goal, with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Slovis to Michael Pittman making it a 31-28 game at the 11:25 mark of the fourth quarter.

With the momentum shifted over to USC’s side of the field, the Buff offense responded … with a three-and-out.

A pass interference penalty against the Trojans on their next drive gave the Buffs and their fans new life, with the CU offense taking over at its 35-yard line with just under eight minutes remaining. In need of a four-minute touchdown drive to put the game away, the Buffs instead held the ball for six plays and two minutes, giving the ball back to USC one more time.

In need of a four-minute touchdown drive to win the game, the Trojans … did just that. USC covered 90 yards in 12 plays, overcoming a second-and-20 after Kedon Slovis was sacked by Jamar Montgomery. Slovis fumbled on the play, but, just had been the case at the CU three-yard line in the second quarter, a potentially game-changing (and season-changing) fumble was recovered by the Trojans.

Recovering quickly from the second-and-20, the Trojans capped the game-winning drive with a second Slovis-to-Pittman touchdown pass, this one covering 37 yards to give USC back the lead it had lost in the first play of the second quarter.

The Buffs still had 2:15 of game clock to recover and post an upset win. Instead, the Buffs meekly turned the ball over on downs at their own 43, allowing the Trojans and their fans to celebrate in victory formation in the final minute.

Final score: USC 35, Colorado 31

“There was never a doubt in our mind coming into this game that we could win,” Tucker said. “Even all the way to the end we felt like we could make a play. We’re going to build on the positives and we’re going to eliminate the negatives.”

Steven Montez finished the game 27-for-43 for 324 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also tacked on 45 yards rushing and another score. The night also included an outstanding performance from CU’s receivers, led by a nine-catch, 172-yard, one touchdown effort from Laviska Shenault.

The defense, despite giving up 518 yards of total offense and 35 points to the Trojans, had its moments, and played much better for much of the game than it did the previous two weeks in blowout losses to Oregon (45-3) and Washington State (41-10). Nate Landman, who came into the game eighth in the nation in tackles, added seven to his team leading total, while K.J. Trujillo, a freshman who may have been red-shirted had he not been forced into duty due to injuries in the CU defensive backfield, finished with six tackles, an interception, and a sack.

Game Notes … 

— Colorado fell to 0-14 all-time in games against USC; 0-7 wearing all-black uniforms;

— Attendance for the game was 48,913, giving the Buffs 203,593 for four home games. The average of 50,898 kept the Buffs averaging greater than a sellout (50,183) for the 2019 season;

— Ralphie didn’t run … According to CU’s Game Notes: “She did not run because she wasn’t of the proper temperament, and her safety and that of her handlers is top priority. She has led the team out on Folsom 296 times since 1967; this was one of the few times she didn’t run“;

— CU didn’t give up a fumble for the fourth straight game, setting a school record (old record: three games, accomplished three times);

— The Buffs led for 42:40 of the game. In the previous eight games played against USC as a member of the Pac-12, Colorado had held the lead for a grand total of 34:02 of game clock;

— With his three receptions for 30 yards (and two touchdowns), K.D. Nixon became the 31st player in school history with over 1,000 career receiving yards (1,023);

— Laviska Shenault (nine receptions for 172 yards and a touchdown) moved into a tie for 12th in receptions (127), 11th in receiving yards (1,693). It was his seventh career 100-yard game, tied for sixth-most in CU history;

— Freshman cornerback K.J. Trujillo had his first career interception and first career sack;

— Steven Montez fell to 15-20 as a CU starting quarterback. His 35 career starts tied him for second-most (with Darian Hagan) in school history (Sefo Liufau, 40). His 32nd consecutive start set a new standard, passing the 31 consecutive starts at quarterback by Gale Weidner.


24 Replies to “USC 35, Colorado 31”

  1. Yo Stuart,

    Sad to say it, but I pointed out the problems with Jay Johnson on Monday on my site.

    One of the most insightful things that CU’s greatest coach Bill McCartney knew was that offensive coordinators should be offensive line coaches. Gerry DiNardo and Eliott Uzelac were the guys for McCartney. Between them they had running guru and future CU head coach Gary Barnett.

    The problem with offensive coordinators who are QB coaches (or WR coaches) is that they don’t focus on the hogs up front. They are so busy watching their guy try to make them look good that they only notice the offensive linemen if the QB get sacked or hurried.

    And when the game gets tight at the end, OC/QB coaches want THEIR guy to be the hero. Instead of pounding the ball for five yards a carry and eating up clock when they are ahead, they keep calling “superman” passes that rarely work. The incomplete passes stop the clock and lead to punting the ball back to the opposition.

    Why in the world Steven Montez was put back into the game is beyond recognition, especially now when everyone is so worried about brain injuries. Colorado is supposed to be the leader in the country on this issue. The Colorado QB gets slammed to the ground on his head and has to be led off the field into the locker room.

    After the backup QB comes in and runs for a nice long play, the quarter ends and the tv timeouts allowed someone to send Montez back in. Whoever gave the medical ok for that should be fired immediately. It was obvious everywhere in the stadium that Montez was not right after the blow to the head.

    Three or four times Montez turned the WRONG way to hand off to the tailback after the injury. He’s been here for four years, and he’s never done that before. Did nobody in the CU booth or sidelines notice that? Oh yeah, the high percentage of completions dropped drastically for Montez as well after the injury. Of course, CU should have been running the ball… except our QB whose bell was so clearly rung didn’t know where his RB was. Some might blame the RB, but on one of those plays Montez made the back MOVE to his other side before the snap and then turned to where the RB was originally.

    I’d like to think that if Jay Johnson was on the field instead of the booth he would known by looking into his QB’s eyes that he was not mentally able to continue. But you can’t tell that on a phone.

    Colorado had every opportunity to not only win this game but win it by several touchdowns. Jay Johnson choked up a storm. But hey, the QB coach and OC can still be happy, because there’s yet another record for the quarterback!

    No, not the consecutive starts they talked about. The other record one no one wants to acknowledge: Montez now has more losses than Darian Hagan, Charles Johnson, Kordell Stewart and Koy Detmer combined! That bad record is not on Montez, that’s on his collection of bad QB coaches.

    Just a final note, Koy Detmer “officially” had a WR guy (Karl Dorrell) as offensive coordinator. But the truth is that Dorrell had an offensive coordinator for a QB in Detmer. Once Koy was gone, the offensive numbers and wins started to tank. 20-4 with Detmer, 13-10 without him.


  2. Sometimes I feel as if this is a big psychology experiment (on the Buff fans). Buffs up by 10 in the fourth quarter, only to go down in flames. I can’t help but think of the line by Egon in Ghostbusters 2….”Now let’s see how she reacts when we take away the puppy….”

    1. Yo Mark, you will get way more eyeballs to your blog by just sponsoring Stu’s site. Call it a charitable donation. It is probably less than you give to your favorite charity.

  3. Wow. I guess I’ll be the guy to bring a little sunshine?

    I don’t buy into anyone saying USC isn’t a good team. I’d argue they are probably the 2nd best team CU’s played this year, behind UO.

    That our Buffs played the way they did – coaches and players – should get some credit, after the two disastrous, embarrassing losses the last two weeks. Remember, USC went to South Bend and took Notre Dame down to the wire. They also destroyed AZ, who we struggled to contain.

    I liked using Montez more in the run game. I’ve always thought they should do that more. It was relatively effective w/ Sefo, and Montez is way, way more of a dangerous runner. Although, there’s obvious concern about getting him hurt, so… gotta balance that.

    KJ played well, but to me the bright spot of the youngsters on D was Mark Perry. That dude knifed through some slender holes to get sacks and/or pressure the QB. And, at critical times. Good play calls. Well executed.

    As to not running the ball in the 4th? Maybe the defense changed what they were doing that impacted what the offense would try to do?

    I do recall people – ahem, VK – crying “they go all turtle” and “play not to lose” with a 4th and 4 punt. I don’t buy that. That’s a convenient throwaway in sport commentating and fandom. Every coach plays to win. They call the plays they think give them the best chance to do that. Sending your 3rd string QB on a designed run from deep in your own territory, when you can just hand it off to one of the two backs who were killing it that day? Brass balls.

    I agree that CJB has a valid point about people and how they handle pressure. But, I give credit to dudes who’ve been coaching for a lifetime, and handling that pressure. There aren’t many jobs where you’re fired as quickly as a football coach. That’s some pressure.

    Hell, we had two clear fumble recovery opportunities that didn’t go our way. The D was playing pretty well all night (other than SC’s first drive). Get that last stop, and game over. Didn’t go down that way.

    I’m still way, way more encouraged after this loss than I thought I would be. I expected a friggin’ massacre. I was happy to see them fight, and not only make it a game, but have a real chance for that stunning upset. It sucks they couldn’t hold it together, but there’s definitely room to grow and improve a little more each game from here on out. After the last two weeks? I was concerned they may have peaked against Nebraska. A not very good Nebraska.

    Yeah, it sucks. Yeah, we’re still 0-14 against USC. Yeah, they let another one slip away, but it’s sure better to be back to losing close, than getting our asses handed to us, by a mediocre Wazzu team (now watch Wazzu beat UO tonight… I’m pullin’ for the Ducks, as that’s our only shot at the playoffs).

    There’s still a lot to play for.

    UCLA is going to be another fun one.

    Go Buffs.

  4. I am extremely disappointed in Tucker’s comments. We can play with anyone is what he took away from this game and the loss? This was a very bad USC team and we lead the game for like 40 minutes and we ran the ball 5 friggin times In The 4th quarter when we had been averaging 5.7 yards per run. Really! That is what he took away from the game…..

  5. At least Jon Wilner is happy
    Everyone else has pretty much summed it up but I am going to put an exclamation point….lets make it 4 or 5 of them on….the PAC 12 refs SUCK.!!!!
    Landman wasnt late and he even made an effort to avoid the hit on the spoiled QB.
    Contrast that to Montez taking 2 steps after throwing and getting waylaid with no call.
    Then there were all the holding calls that seemed to come at critical times. I didnt see any replays depicting them but the announcers were shaking their heads a couple of times over them.
    Of course, tell me I am paranoid but this reminds me of those TV stars paying off someone at this school to get their kids in…..not to mention the crap going on with Enfield the Hoops coach.
    Thats right refs. I am insinuating you as crooked as the culture at USC. Go ahead eject me from the game and suspend me
    Add to that I have never had a positive experience in the LA area. I would rather drive all the way across Nebraska than from Ontario to Playa del Rey. LAX is a s—hole. and on and on and on.
    OK now I feel a little better now
    and oh yeah This doesnt exonerate the coaching decisions in the 4th

    1. Summation of my thoughts also. I don’t like to say that it was the refs, ever, but this one hurt and they were the villians on several key possessions.

      I’d have to say that the play calling wasn’t very good on the last several possessions as “home run” plays were called and that had Montez throwing under duress. I’ve always been a proponent of 5-10 yd. types of WR, TE slants where the % of success is increased.

      USC didn’t kill us with “home run” plays…. it was the 5-15 yard passes that killed us….. and they did that really well with an accurate, poised QB.

      Good thing I don’t have a shotgun ! My TV is lucky to still be secured on the wall.

      SKO BUFFS !!!

    2. Agreed. Said in Harry Doyle/Bob Uecker voice….”They don’t call them the worst refs in the county for nothin’!”

      We talk a lot about the 50/50 balls, but what about the 50/50 calls? The Buffs don’t seem to get anywhere close to their share of those.

  6. Was just a bad look overall to have Montez back out there….he clearly suffered a head injury that took him to the locker room, never should have been let back in the game. And then he played like he was concussed…if you try deep shots the ball has to be thrown in bounds to have any chance.

  7. I echo everyone’s comments on the need to run the ball late in the game, particularly because it had been working all night. An aside, I think partly why the rush attack clicked was it became a bit less predictable and because it wasn’t predicated on slow developing draw plays. But I digress.

    This game pissed me off for a host of reasons, but one of them has to be all the penalties and the weak finish. Because these touch on cornerstones of what this coach was brought in to do: instill discipline and finish strong. It seems the more gravity of the moment and situation, we are least efficient and disciplined. What’s that all about.

    Fewer penalties or better offensive efficiency in the 4th (hell, not even points but more 1st downs and time of possession) and we very likely win this game.

    Another brick in the wall of disappointment.

    1. “Another brick in the wall”. I am hoping that I can get “comfortably numb” but I don’t think that is going to happen. Regarding your comment “what’s that all about”, I am still simmering about the ridiculous situational play calling in the fourth quarter and blowing an opportunity for a historical and culture changing win. Having been in extreme sports when I was younger, it was interesting to see people performing under pressure. There was “flight, fight, and freeze”, how people are wired and react under pressure. There was no logical reason for the deep ball play calling given the situation. So, IMO, it may be how Johnson performs under pressure, similar to the play calling at the end of the AZ game. Feels like an adrenaline driven “flight” reaction. During the game, our section had talked about how the team was playing within itself and if it kept that up, we had a really good chance to win the game. The team is already subconsciously waiting, given all of the losing over the last two seasons and this one, for the next shoe to drop. The last thing they need is a coach who puts them in low percentage situations because of his inability to handle the pressure. That is a “double whammy”. Since Johnson was a so called “analyst”, he needs to analyze how he responds in situations like this and to fix it. The O play calling for most of the game was well designed. But when it counted, the plan went out the window, the run was abandoned, and the deep balls came out. We have lost 3 out of 4 home games. Like others, I don’t want to hear coach speak excuses about “we are close”, it is all about the “details”. We have had years upon years of those comments. I like HCMT words about seeing a problem and fixing it. Here is an absolute golden opportunity to do just that.

  8. Bad loss
    Liked the helmets
    Questionable end of game play calling………………WE WANT TO RUN THE BALL ON OUR TERMS.
    Oh well guess they are all still learning eh?

    Go Buffs.

    Note: Are there really only 4 games left? Mein gott what happened here?

  9. Tough game to lose. Montez played terrific game but did not seem like the same player after hit that made him hit his head on turf – how was that not a penalty when Landman’s hit on SC QB in first half was?

    Abandonment of running game in big spots continues to baffle me especially since in Fontenot and Mangham Buffs have two kids who can carry the ball.

  10. I have been paying to go to games since the mid 90s. I don’t care about the details anymore, I don’t care if they “fought hard” or “showed improvement”, I have heard that almost every week over the past 15 years beginning with Hawkins. Please stop losing, please. We are constantly told to be patient and have hope, and it is the same poor product every season. In the meantime we are repeatedly hit up for donations and ticket deals…just get better, you can’t sell me hope anymore, please just get better, so sick of this crap.

  11. I agree wholeheartedly with everyone hanging this L in the coaching staff. The players got us in a position to win, and the coaches burned them.

    The game plan had to be to wear SC down and punish them in the 4th by pounding at them over and over. We were in the position to do just that and walk away with a win. Montez clearly couldn’t throw straight after getting his head pounded into the turf. What were they thinking with all those crapshoot deep balls on 1st down at that point. Total collapse of coaching , imho.

    What A WASTE!!!!

  12. Been to lots of games over the years. This one had great atmosphere, energy, and the players played well. Fans showed up and supported the school and program. And…whoever called the offensive plays in the second half of the fourth quarter let the players, fans, and alums down. Is it Jay Johnson? It felt like the poor play calling at the end of the AZ game again. Long passes with patterns which had not worked. Why not stay with what worked previously? Particularly since from a situational standpoint, more runs and shorter passes are what would have been called for. Whoever it is freaked out and called long balls and cost CU the game IMO. If this freak out tendency at the end of close games is going to be an ongoing response in stressful situations, then HCMT is going to have to intervene to counteract it. Yes, there were a lot of penalties that played a contributing factor but the coaching staff (not Montez, not the O line, not other players including the decimated D) bears the brunt of the loss through poor offensive game management at the end This was a very meaningful game that the Buffs had in their grasp and should have won. Proud of the players and their effort. Disappointed in how the coaching staff handled the last half of the last quarter.

  13. The play calling to finish the 4th quarter was abhorrent. This loss is on Jay Johnson. Tucker better have a hard conversation with his oc who calls deep passing plays against a defense you were successfully running the ball against. You were averaging 5.7 yards a Carrie and you ran it 5 times in the fourth quarter when you started the quarter with a 10 point lead. This game is 100 percent on the coaches.

  14. The honeymoon with this coaching staff is over. The Buffs we constantly out of sinc, late to the line, out of step, and confused on offense. 13 penalties including multiple motion and holding calls exposed a team without focus. It’s not that they were coming back from 4 weeks off, after all, but they each looked like they’d just met the guy next to them for the first time. In the fourth quarter, after having an overwhelming lead in time of possession and the lead, the offensive ( in all meanings) coordinator chose to lengthen the game, stop the clock and shut down the running game in favor of low percentage and clock stopping passing “attack”. After following this team for more than 30 years I think it’s time for me to toss my allegiance in the gutter along with the game plans this staff puts together each week. Sometimes I think they’re playing for a higher draft choice next year. But wait…..

  15. Great play calling again by the CU OC with about 8 min. left in the game. Lot’s of low percentage medium to long passes, just like the AZ game. I don’t know, but why not grind it out with the running game and some high percentage short passes, if needed. If CU had scored on a 5 to 6 min drive at that time during the 4th Qtr. Game over CU wins.

    Also I know that the refs didn’t lose the game but USC seemed to get some breaks on some questionable calls through the game. Oh well this is kinda what it was like when McCartney was starting to turn things around. Hope history repeats itself.

  16. CU just can’t finish games, can’t slam the door in a team’s face. Buffs don’t know how to win, until we can recruit players who can push to the finish line we’ll be a 4-5 win team for the foreseeable future. Tucker needs to recruit big-time players and we’ll see what he can get done but this one hurts, we should have been able to shut the door in the 4th quarter and we gave it away. No excuse for such a loss.

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