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Buffaloes show promise in loss to USC

Colorado fought back in the second half.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Colorado Chet Strange-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffaloes put up a valiant effort against USC at Folsom Field in week five, but ultimately fell by a score of 48-41. Coach Prime and Colorado now fall to a record of 3-2. The Buffs were never supposed to win today, as the eighth ranked Trojans were 21-point favorites headed into today’s contest. You wouldn’t be able to tell at first glance that the Buffs didn’t win, as spirits were high in Boulder postgame. The fact that Colorado only lost by one score is the very definition of a moral victory, especially after last week’s demolition in Oregon.

For the fourth week in a row, the Buffs stumbled out of the gate. Colorado’s offense couldn’t sustain any momentum and their defense struggled to contain the high-flying Trojans attack. USC quarterback and reigning Heisman winner Caleb Williams was torching the Colorado secondary in the first half. Williams had 260 yards passing and four touchdowns in the first two quarters alone, as he was orchestrating big plays with ease. Adding into the mix a USC blocked punt, it looked as though this game was going to get ugly. The Buffs went into halftime down 34-14.

To start the second half, things started to take a major shift. All of a sudden, the Colorado offense started to get rolling led by quarterback Shedeur Sanders. It wouldn’t be Sanders that would give the Buffaloes the majority of their momentum however, but instead a breakout performance from freshman wide receiver Omarion Miller. When Miller checked into the game in the second half, the tides started to change. Miller became Shedeur’s go-to man pretty much immediately, and started to rattle off big play after big play. Miller finished the game with 196 yards on seven receptions and a touchdown. Nobody expected Miller to even see the field today, let alone to have a breakout game. Even Coach Prime was surprised by Miller’s efforts against USC.

“I didn’t think we were gonna get that from Omarion. I haven’t seen that,” said Coach Prime postgame. “[Miller] hasn’t practiced well, that’s why he hasn’t played.”

Miller wasn’t the only Buff on offense who had an impressive day, as running back Anthony Hankerson was a major factor in Colorado’s comeback. Hankerson finished the game with 74 yards rushing and a touchdown. The Buffs have had a lot of trouble establishing a strong rushing attack in weeks prior, but finished week five with a very encouraging 193 yards on the ground. Hankerson was a large reason for that success.

“[Hankerson] ran the ball hard. He’s been good. He’s been consistent every game,” Coach Prime said. “Hank is resilient, he’s been doing a good job.”

Speaking of Colorado’s run game, the offensive line really stepped up their game to help pave the way for the running backs. CU’s offensive line opened some big gaps that Hankerson took full advantage of. As for the pass rush, Colorado punched above their weight too. Last week, the big men got beaten badly by Oregon and allowed seven sacks. Today, they only allowed three sacks on Shedeur. You obviously don’t want to allow any sacks, but the banged and

battered unit really stepped things up today. Hopefully, they can protect Shedeur better throughout the remainder of the season. The less of a beating Shedeur takes, the better.

Shedeur had a fantastic bounce back performance Saturday after a rough week in Eugene. Despite the slow start, the Colorado QB picked up the pace and turned on the burners in the second half. When Shedeur actually gets time in the pocket, his exceptional vision allows him to pick apart opposing secondaries. Shedeur was throwing lasers into tight spots all game long, including an impressive touchdown pass to Omarion Miller in the fourth quarter. Shedeur finished today with 371 passing yards, four touchdown passes and one interception. That interception wasn’t his fault either, as the intended receiver Xavier Weaver got eaten by the turf monster on the play. Shedeur further cemented his status as a bonafide stud against USC.

Colorado’s secondary had a lot of trouble handling Williams and USC’s receivers today, but who can really blame them? USC has one of the most talented and dangerous offenses in the country. Healthy secondaries are going to have problems handling USC this season. CU’s secondary is essentially held together with duct tape at this point. Corner Travis Hunter and safety Shilo Sanders missed the game with liver injuries, meaning the Buffs were without their best two defensive players. Taking that into account, Colorado actually did a darn good job today.

Freshman and five star recruit Cormani McClain saw significant play time this week at cornerback and made the most of it. McClain faced some criticism earlier in the week from Coach Prime due to some potential work ethic issues off the field. Despite the adversity, Cormani had quite the coming out party against USC. McClain had a massive pass break up in the end zone and what should have been an interception, but it was called back on a questionable defensive interference call. Cormani established himself as a viable option at cornerback and a potential big asset for the Buffs moving forward.

“I’m proud of [Cormani] for just even stepping up to the challenge to get out there and make a difference,” Coach Prime said. “I’m proud of him. I really am.”

This week was slated to be Colorado and Coach Prime’s toughest game of the season. Many counted the Buffaloes out this week, but they put on a show despite the loss. This has been the best CU has looked since week one against TCU. There were a lot of encouraging things for the Buffs on display today. Omarion Miller looked awesome, the secondary made some noise without their two stars, the offensive line really stepped up their game and Colorado held their own against the eighth best team in the nation. Coach Prime and Shedeur both said they don’t believe in moral victories after the game and they’re hungry for more wins.

The Buffs will make their way to Tempe next Saturday for a matchup with Arizona State. After their showing this week, Colorado should be the favorite. Next week’s game is extremely winnable and could be a lot of fun. The quest for a bowl game continues on, as the Buffs need three more victories to become bowl eligible. Coach Prime and his squad will take on the Sun Devils next Saturday at 4:30 p.m. MT on the Pac-12 Network.