Win and they’re in the hunt for the postseason. That’s the outlook for the Colorado Buffaloes (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) heading into the last two games of the season. That all starts Saturday with the South Division leading USC Trojans (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12) coming to Boulder for Senior Day.
USC has won the last eleven games in this series going all the way back to 1927. Over the past two contests, Colorado has proven themselves as better opponent with the games being decided by a combined seven points. Trailing 14-0 going into halftime of last year’s game, the Buffaloes came back within a final possession of Steven Montez pulling off an upset in place of an injured Sefo Liufau. Colorado felt more deserving of the Rose Bowl bid taken by USC at the end of last season (not that the results would have been different), nonetheless it came down to who had the better overall resume.
Colorado played USC during a downslide at the beginning of last season. Many argue if the game was scheduled towards the end of the season that the Buffs suffer a blowout loss. Sam Darnold lifted the Trojans through the rough start and his team is once again back in contention for another New Year’s Bowl run. He’s a perfect 11-0 as a starter at home, but the key stat as it relates to this matchup is all three of career losses occurred on the road.
Darnold’s a top ten quarterback, having passed for 2,869 yards and 22 touchdowns after catching most of the nation attention early in the season as a preseason Heisman favorite. Lately Ronald Jones is the story for the Trojans offense, rushing for 410 yards and five touchdowns in the past two games. Not to take away from Darnold, who is completing 64 percent of his passes for 577 yards and five touchdowns in the same span.
Stopping Jones will be the No. 1 key for the Buffaloes defense, but that’s easier said than done. Jones’ physical, beat em’ up style of play puts him among the best running backs for yards after contact. Another advantage for the Trojans is Darnold, who’ll test the inexperienced side of the secondary with Trey Udoffia and Dante Wigley. A complete effort from Leo Jackson, Chris Mulumba, Jase Franke, Javier Edwards and Derek McCartney is necessary to stop Jones’ initial effort and avoid yards after contact. Colorado ranks second-to-last in the Pac-12 for rushing defense, giving up nearly 200 yards per game.
Quick scores by Colorado’s offense will force Darnold to play more uptempo and out him in a situation to turn the ball over. It was a similar approach taken by Notre Dame, Washington State and Texas that worked in favor of keeping Darnold flustered. Shay Fields, Devin Ross, Bryce Bobo and Jay MacIntyre should see more production this week to offset the attention the Trojans will likely give to Phillip Lindsay. We’ll see how Colorado’s offensive line shifts to cover the loss of Tim Lynott, not to mention how it will alter Lindsay’s projected contributions.
Despite injuries at key positions, USC’s defense has mastered the technique of getting to the quarterback, leading the nation with 34 sacks on the season. Uchenna Nwosu, John Houston, Chris Hawkins, Marvell Tell and Jordan Iosefa have stepped up in tandem week after week for the Trojans.
Keeping Montez from having time to connect on deep routes, in addition to forcing Lindsay to be the Buffs sole playmaker is USC’s best plan of attack. It goes without saying that Montez will have to play mistake-free throughout the game and have better pocket awareness.
Colorado tries for the upset against USC on Saturday, Nov. 11 at Folsom Field. The Buffs senior class will be honored before the game and kickoff is scheduled for 2 pm MT with national television coverage on FOX. Mark Johnson and Gary Barnett have the play-by-play call on 850 KOA.