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Colorado Buffaloes vs. USC Trojans: Game Preview

Buffs are winless all-time against the Trojans going into Saturday's matchup.

There's a chance for history to be made on Saturday.

The No. 21 Colorado Buffaloes (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12) head into the "City of Angels" as the only undefeated team in the Pac-12 South, looking to accomplish a feat that hasn't been done in 89 seasons against the USC Trojans (2-3, 1-2 Pac-12). Since the first meeting in 1927, CU is winless with a 0-10 record against USC, splitting five home games a piece in the series.

This year's meeting features two teams on opposite paths from last season. Colorado has been on the rise with an experienced, upperclassmen laden team and has already matched their win total from last season. Compared to past season, USC is struggling in a semi-rebuilding phase under Head Coach Clay Helton. The Buffs have been competitive in every game so far this season, including the 45-28 loss to No. 4 Michigan. USC is still trying to find grove against ranked opponents, going 0-3 against No. 1 Alabama, No. 7 Stanford and No. 24 Utah by a combine score of 58-37.

Colorado's 47-6 blowout win over Oregon State last week came courtesy of another great performance from quarterback Steven Montez. The freshman nearly eclipsed the 300-yard passing mark for a second straight week. Sam Darnold has emerged as the USC quarterback over Max Browne, leading the Trojans to their first conference win of the season. The two freshman quarterbacks have led their respective teams in the past two week. Montez has a 2-0 record as a starter, Darnold is 1-1.

In last year's game, the Buffs opened with a 17-6 lead at home, before quarterback Sefo Liufau was injured in the second quarter with a broken lisfranc (foot). It was a different story in the second half as CU was outplayed by USC and eventually lost the battle in the fourth quarter, on the way to a 27-24 loss.

What to expect from Colorado on offense

There's a slight chance this week that Liufau will be starting in favor of Montez. Both quarterbacks have been taking reps in practice with no word on who will be starting this week. Montez is currently listed as the starter on the depth chart after he completed 19-of-27 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns against Oregon State's 124th ranked defense. Liufau and Montez have a combined 1,511 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions this season. Both CU quarterbacks are throwing a ratio of one touchdown for every 11 attempts and one interception per 67 attempts.

Colorado averages 531.2 yards per game, ranking sixth in the nation in total offense. USC faces a top-twenty offense for the first time this season and the Buffs shouldn't have problems moving the ball down the field on the Trojans, especially through the air. Bryce Bobo, Shay Fields and Devin Ross will be easy targets, but don't be shocked if Phillip Lindsay is relied on in the passing game out of the backfield.

What to expect from Colorado on defense

The inexperience of USC's offense and especially Darnold will be tested by the Buffs defense early in this contest. The Trojans' weakend offensive line has allowed seven sacks this season and establishing a strong pass rush for CU will be a key for success. Only two of Colorado's opponents have been able to gain more than 100 yards through the air. Oregon's the only team to crack the 200-yard mark in both rushing and passing. Colorado's defense has shut down opponents with 13 sacks, six interceptions and three fumble recoveries. The biggest threat for the Buffs in this matchup is JuJu Smith-Schuster, he's the only Trojans' receiver to have more than one touchdown this season and has gathered 320 yards with five TD's.

Colorado can shut down USC by slowing the Trojans' running game and forcing Darnold into third-and-long situations. Keeping wraps on Justin Davis and Roland Jones II will open the door for turnover opportunities against one of the best defenses in the Pac-12.

Here's how Colorado's defense stacks up.

CU Defense vs. opponents Total yards Passing yards Rushing yards Points Allowed
*Thru five games 23rd, 1,452 14th, 746 60th, 706 41st, 103

Yet again, the special teams unit for the Buffs will be asked to step up and handle one of the best returners in college football. USC's Adoree Jackson averages 28.6 yards per kick return, including a 100-yard touchdown return against Utah. He's one of the best pure athletes and has the ability to make plays with every touch.

What to expect from USC on offense

The Trojans are searching for an identity on offense. After starting off the season 1-2 with Browne as QB, Helton decided that Darnold would be a better fit for the offensive scheme. Browne lacked the sense of urgency that Darnold has shown is key to USC's current offense. Last week, he completed 23-of-33 (69.7%) passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns against Arizona State, who have one of the worst defenses in the nation. The Trojans are ranked for 69th in total offense, averaging 392 yards and almost 26 points per game.

USC's running game behind Davis and Jones II has been steady in some games and non-existent in others. USC's rushers have been held to less than 150 yards rushing in three of the five games this season along with six touchdowns.

What to expect from USC on defense

Colorado's offense is strong with two very capable options at quarterback and a running game that can wear down defenses. The Trojans are tied for 66th in the nation for total defense, allowing an average of almost 28 point per game. USC's young defensive line is tasked with containing the Buffs' high-flying offense, but applying pressure on opposing quarterbacks has been a struggle for the Trojans, who rank 10th among conference teams with 8 sacks this season. A large task against a Buffs' offense that averages 43.2 points per game.

Odds and ends

Both the Buffaloes and Trojans are looking to stay afloat in the Pac-12 standings. For CU, a win would increase their undefeated margin as south division leaders and for USC, a loss would put them deeper in the hurt for a return to the conference championship game.

Colorado's defense extended the nation's longest streak for forced turnovers to 18 consecutive games last week. The Buffs forced two interceptions against Oregon State, including a 20-yard touchdown return from Rick Gamboa.

According to most sports books in Las Vegas, The Buffs are 5 point underdogs this week and have a perfect 5-0 record this year against the spread.

Colorado travels on the road to LA to meet USC. A well-under capacity crowd of roughly 86,000 is expected for Saturday's (10/8) 2 p.m. kickoff at the Memorial Coliseum.

Weather forecast: 92 °, Sunny with little clouds. TV: Pac-12 Networks, Radio: 850 KOA (Colorado), 710 ESPN LA KSPN (California)