“There’s a first time for everything.” The statement is very applicable for the the No. 19 Colorado Buffaloes (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) as they enter Saturday night’s matchup with the USC Trojans (3-2, 2-1 Pac). It’s a south division battle with an opportunity for the Buffs to create space atop the Pac-12 football standings and remain the nation’s last remaining undefeated team west of the Mississippi.
USC is a perfect 12-0 against the Buffs going back to 1924, and 18-0 (13-straight against Pac-12 opponents) at the LA Coliseum in coach Clay Helton’s third season at Southern California. It marks USC’s fifth night game and Colorado’s third of 2018. Also, it’s the first time USC faces an undefeated CU team in their storied 130-year history.
In last year’s contest, USC took care of business for a division-clinching win behind Sam Darnold’s 329 yards and two touchdowns. Juwann Winfree’s second half breakout performance kept the Buffs in the game after Shay Fields was ruled out due to injury. He finished with five receptions for 163 yards and two touchdowns. In the end, Colorado couldn’t overcome the 20-point first half deficit and USC rolled by a score of 38-24.
After a back-and-forth win last week over Arizona State, Colorado is off to their best start in 20 years behind the outstanding offensive attack led by Laviska Shenault Jr. He accounted for all four touchdowns against the Sun Devils, the most since Michael Adkins against Charleston Southern in 2013.
It’s a different story for USC with two losses against No. 10 Stanford in an early Week 2 conference game, 17-3, and the following week at Texas, 37-14. USC struggles on offense are a result of JT Daniels’ inexperience. The true freshman passer hasn’t show progression thru five games, throwing for 1,257 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Aca’Cedric Ware leads the Trojans rushing attack with 335 yards and three touchdowns, despite a combined five carries for 3 yards in consecutive weeks at Texas and against Washington State. If Colorado can contain USC’s run game, Daniels will be forced to look downfield to get the Trojans offense some type of production.
The Trojans are coming off a bye week after their first road win of 2018 in holding off Arizona for the 24-20 victory in the desert. The Wildcats dealt USC a third fourth quarter shutout of the season. It’s the only time the Trojans have come away victorious after not scoring late in a game this season. Colorado reigns as the nation’s best fourth quarter team, allowing a total of three points and holding the previous four opponents scoreless in the final 15 minutes.
Many have called Shenault an early Heisman candidate near the mid-way point of the season with a total of 749 yards from scrimmage, along with ten touchdowns. The standout wide receiver from Desoto, Texas has four games with 100+ receiving yards, along with a touchdown in all five this season. Shenault’s 141.6 receiving yard average is the best in the nation and 45.9 yards better than any other Pac-12 player. He’s been the go-to option for the Buffaloes with the most rushing touchdowns of any Pac-12 receiver with four.
Outside what Shenault has done this season, Buffaloes quarterback Steven Montez leads the nation with a completion percentage of 75.2%. He has thrown for 1,420 yards with 11 touchdowns to two interceptions, becoming only the sixth player in CU history to surpass 6,000 yards last week. Montez’s key is distributing the ball effectively for the Buffs high-powered offensive attack. Colorado has committed just four turnovers on a total of 459 plays thus far. A huge factor in that success is running back Travon McMillian’s ability to take care of the ball, along with providing Montez support as an extra blocker. The Buffs are one of three FBS teams (Ole Miss, Oklahoma State) to have a player in the top 20 for average passing yards, rushing yards, and receiving yards.
USC’s defense is familiar with the different looks of an “air-raid” style offense after seeing Washington State three weeks ago. However, the way Colorado deploys their balanced pro-style offense is nothing compared to what the Trojans have experienced this season. Shenault and the rest of CU’s receiving corps present a problem for USC’s secondary, who are without five contributing players due to injury or dismissal from when the start of the season. Any hope of safety Bubba Bolden returning is gone after announcing his plans to leave USC earlier this week. Shenault isn’t Colorado’s only playmaker with depth from K.D. Nixon, Jay MacIntyre, Tony Brown, Kabion Ento, and Juwann Winfree. Add that to McMillian’s versatility and the fact that he’s the most productive back the Trojans will have faced, averaging 105.6 rushing yards per game.
News and Notes
Many Colorado-Southern California connections going into this game. There are a total of 40 players on the Buffs roster making the first of two trips to the Golden State this year. Two brothers will spar against each other with USC TE Josh Falo going up against his older sibling, CU OLB Nu’umotu Falo Jr.
USC’s secondary coach Ronnie Bradford played at CU from 1989-92. He’s known for the PAT block that preserved the Buffs 1990 Orange Bowl victory over Notre Dame. USC special teams analyst Andy LaRussa spent time as an assistant at Colorado in 2013. He’s also the son-in-law of Gary Bernardi, who serves at CU’s tight end/ H-back coach. Bernardi was also an assistant at USC from 1987-92.
From the desk of Dave Plati:
Obscure stats of the week
“This is the second time in school history (modern era) for a team following one with a sub-.500 record matched the win total from the previous year in that same number of games. The 2017 Buffaloes were 5-7, this edition of the Buffaloes won the five games in as many tries. The 1998 team accomplished the same; after the ’97 team went 5-6, it went out and won its first five en route to an 8-4 finish.
Colorado has run 378 plays on offense this season – 209 of those on scoring drives (55.3 percent); the opponent has run 116 of their 349 offensive plays on its scoring possessions, or 33.2 percent. CU has scored on 29 of 63 drives this year (24 touchdowns); opponents have scored on just 13 of 65 drives (8 TD).”
Colorado travels for their first Pac-12 road game against USC on Saturday, Oct. 13 at 8:30 p.m. MT. A total of 833 miles separates Boulder, Colorado, and Los Angeles, California with 5,330 feet being the difference in elevation. A sixth win for the Buffs would be the best mark since starting 7-0 in 1994.
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 850 KOA
Announcers: Mark Johnson and Gary Barnett
Odds: -7 USC
Weather forecast: 65° Clear