The Colorado Buffaloes suffered their first loss of the season Saturday night in Los Angeles, a 31-20 defeat at the hands of the USC Trojans. Instead of their first 6-0 start since 1994, the Buffs fell to 5-1 overall, (2-1 in conference play) and are now 0-13 all-time against the Trojans.
Here are my three biggest takeaways from Colorado’s tough loss to USC:
1. Buffs fail to take advantage of turnovers, dominated by USC front 7
”We won the turnover battle. We won the penalty battle,” Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre said following the game. “You should have a chance to win the game. We kind of had a chance but just shot ourselves in the foot.” Whether its playing a perennial powerhouse like USC, or any other FBS program, taking advantage of turnovers can mean the difference between winning and losing. The Buffaloes received two gifts in the first quarter. On the very first play from scrimmage, Drew Lewis intercepted a JT Daniels pass, giving Colorado the ball at the USC 40-yard line. Later in the first quarter, Evan Worthington picked off a Daniels pass, setting up to Buffs at their own 36. Neither of those turnovers amounted to points for the Buffaloes.
This game didn’t come down to those two plays however. The difference in this one was the utter dominance of USC’s front seven. Even without captain and leading tackler Cameron Smith (hamstring injury), the Trojans dominated the line of scrimmage. 25 percent of Colorado’s plays (21-of-84) went for either no gain or negative yards. Clancy Pendergast’s unit recorded a total of 16 tackles for loss, including four sacks. Entering the game, the Buffaloes offense was averaging 6.5 yards per play. Colorado could only muster 3.2 yards per play Saturday night.
2. Needed to take more chances downfield
One of the reasons Colorado started 5-0 this season, was their ability to adjust at halftime, especially in their last two wins against UCLA and Arizona State. This was not the case Saturday night in the Coliseum. Right from the start of the contest, USC’s defense was able to snuff out Colorado’s short passing game. “They did a great job. They were breaking down hill and dropped 8 a lot,” MacIntyre said of the Trojans defense. “They were doing some things they hadn’t done. They had a week off and were interchanging out of the same personnel group. We started finding some stuff that would work, but it was too late.” The Buffaloes offense managed just 111 yards in the 1sthalf, 49 of which came on one play - a Lavsika Shenault touchdown run out of the wildcat. Trailing 21-7 at the half, the Buffaloes needed to take more shots down the field to get back in the game. What is there to lose? Go for broke. Instead, they managed just 53 yards on 17 plays in the 3rdquarter and fell into a deeper hole they couldn’t climb out of.
3. USC is in the driver’s seat, but anything can happen
Despite Saturday’s loss, the Buffaloes are still hanging on in the Pac-12 South race. They’ll need to finish the season strong however – 4-2 with losses to Washington and Washington State at the worst - and hope the Men of Troy slip up. But as we’ve seen over the past two seasons, anything can happen in this conference. Here’s a look at the current Pac-12 South standings. Next week could go a long way in determining this year’s South Division winner. USC (4-2, 3-1 Pac-12) has a tough road test against a Utah (4-2, 2-2 Pac-12) program that has been clicking on all cylinders recently. As for the Buffs, they head to Seattle to take on the 15thranked Washington Huskies.
NEXT UP: October 20 at 15 Washington (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12), 1:30 PM MT, Fox
Both the Buffaloes and Huskies (lost 30-27 to Oregon in OT Saturday) are coming off losses. Washington holds an 11-5-1 record in the series which dates back to 1915. Since joining the Pac-12 however, the Buffaloes are 0-6 against the Huskies including a 41-10 loss I the 2016 Pac-12 Championship Game. Keep an eye out for the status of Buffaloes star receiver Laviska Shenault, left the game in the 3rdquarter against USC after injuring his toe. If he can’t go, the Buffaloes will need one or possibly two other receivers step up against the Huskies.