Another week in the books for the Colorado Buffaloes (3-4, 1-2 Pac-12) and yet again another loss on the road to Washington State. After their third straight loss in Pac-12 play, coming home won’t be any easier with the USC Trojans (4-3, 3-1 Pac-12) awaiting the Buffs.
Clay Helton’s future in Southern California remains in doubt and it’s clear to see why the Trojan faithful are restless. USC opened the season unranked for the first time since 2001 after finishing one of the worst seasons in recent memory as they went bowl-less at 5-7. An up-and-down roller coaster has encompassed Helton’s ride this year. They started high with back-to-back home wins over Fresno State and No. 23 Stanford to open the season, then lost three of the next four on the road — a 3-point blunder to BYU, along with falling to 17th-ranked Washington and 9th-ranked Notre Dame in subsequent weeks.
Helton has done enough to stay afloat in LaLa land. And believe it or not, USC sits atop the Pac-12 South Division standings holding the direct tiebreaker due to a Sept. 21 win over No. 12 Utah.
The Trojans bounced back with a 41-14 win over Arizona at the Coliseum last Saturday. It was the seventh straight win for USC over the Wildcats after holding Khalil Tate and Arizona’s offense to 167 yards and no points in the first three quarters. It was a small victory for Helton, who relied on fifth-string running back Kenan Christon to carry the load out of the backfield for the Trojans late in the game. A freshman that came to USC as the reigning 100-meter high school champion in the state of California, Christon set the bar in his debut with 103 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Arizona.
Keeping depth in USC’s lineup has been Helton’s biggest struggle during the 2019 campaign. USC has seven players listed as questionable for Friday’s game vs. Colorado, and another ten are ruled out. According to the Los Angeles Times, six Trojans players came up injured on Saturday night. Among those wide receiver Munir McClain (torn ACL) and linebacker Abdul Malik-McClain (shoulder), and Drake Jackson (ankle) are out indefinitely. Running backs Stephen Carr and Markese Stepp were all evaluated during the week, along with safety Talanoa Hufanga.
A lingering ankle injury has been a set back for defensive end Christian Rector as well. The Trojans’ captain sat out the past two games and has struggled to play through the injury this season. Drake Jackson, who’s been the most productive member of USC’s defense, would be the next one up to replace Rector, but now defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a will be reaching deep to fill the gaps.
Perhaps the biggest loss for the Trojans was the injury to starting quarterback JT Daniels, who suffered a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee earlier this season. Kedon Slovis stepped in as the next man up for USC and completed 19-of-28 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns in his latest outing against Arizona’s 129th-ranked defense. The 6-foot-2, 200 pound Scottsdale, Ariz. freshman has thrown for 1,219 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions in six games. Blame inexperience on Slovis’ number not being typical of a high-powered Trojans’ offense, but a lack of receiver help and a poor defense effort have also been contributing factors as well.
Win-less is a term both teams are looking to avoid on Friday. For Colorado, that’s been the story going back to 1927. The Buffs are 0-13 all-time against USC, including 0-8 since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. CU has come very close to putting a win on the books in recent years with the previous four meetings being decided by 14 points of less. As for USC, their road losing streak is in jeopardy of continuing this season. They are in danger of having a historically poor record on the road.
Colorado will be looking to shake off some rust as well after two bad weeks on the road. A low mark of 6.5 points per game for Steven Montez and the Buffs offense against No. 13 Oregon and Washington State was the story line. This is a long fall for what was once a scoring machine that ranked in the top 20 for offensive efficiency and averaged 34.6 points per game through the first five games. Montez has thrown six interceptions to zero touchdowns in his last 43 passing attempts, which came against the Ducks and Cougars. If it wasn’t for the rushing attack of Alex Fontenot and Jaren Mangham, CU’s offense would be rendered unproductive in the past two games. Despite the woes, the duo averaged 5.9 yards per carry in the back-to-back losses.
As for Montez, he is trying to overcome a slump not many quarterbacks face, but still has the support of coach Mel Tucker. In his weekly press conference Tucker said the Buffs senior QB “Looks good,” and went on to say, “You can tell when a guy doesn’t have confidence because you are around them all the time. I don’t see that with him. He is fighting and scrapping. He made plays yesterday, made some plays today.”
Colorado has demons to overcome defensively as well. A group that is dead least in the Pac-12 allowing 34.9 points per contest (116th-FBS), and a majority of yards thru the air with an average of 316.0 yards (129th-FBS) to opposing quarterbacks. A staggering 30 points + has been scored by CU opponents in all seven games this season. The Buffs and Trojans are two of the six teams in the Pac-12 to allow an average of 400+ yards per game (CU: 482.4, USC: 416.4). What sets USC apart from CU is points allowed— a statistical category the Trojans are one of the best in the conference with 24.0 point per game.
News and notes
From the desk of Dave Plati:
“Stat of the week: Feast or Famine. Colorado has allowed 41 plays of 20 yards or more in seven games this season, with 14 of those going for touchdowns. The 41 plays have netted 1,468 yards – an average of 35.8 yards per. The other 451 plays have netted 1,909 yards, a pedestrian 4.2 yards per, with 256 of those going for four yards or less. By comparison, CU has 31 plays for 20-plus yards (eight for scores), those gaining a combined 944 yards (or 30.5 per). CU’s remaining 477 plays have earned 1,910 yards (4.0 per). Those 10 extra plays of 20-plus by the opponent provide a difference of 524 yards – the basic difference in total offense between two (483 yards through seven games)”
Colorado comes home after a two-game road stand to welcome USC on Friday, Oct. 25. Kickoff is schedule for 7 p.m. MT at Folsom Field. The Buffs are seeking the first win in the series over the Trojans. USC was ranked eight times in the first 11 games of the series, Colorado three times (including last year); the only time both were ranked was in 2002, when USC rolled to a 40-3 win in Boulder (CU was No. 18, USC No. 17).
TV: ESPN2 (National) Dave Flemming (play-by-play) / Louis Riddick (color) / Paul Carcaterra (sideline reporter)
Radio: 850 KOA (Regional) Mark Johnson (play-by-play)/ Gary Barnett (color)
Weather Forecast: 49°, clear at kickoff
Odds: -13 USC