The bye week has come and gone and CU Football is back! After a weekend off that my heart certainly appreciated, the Buffs travel to the City of Angels to take on USC, fresh off a close victory against Arizona. Let's take a look back at one of the more excruciating losses at Folsom in some time.
Oh boy, this one hurt. Matt Sparkman wrote the immediate recap of the game here, and more breakdown content can be found throughout the site. Good thing we, as fans, had two weeks to digest this loss. The stage was set for a great win. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Folsom, students actually showed up in force, albeit late, and the best chance at a PAC-12 win was staring the team in the face. It started out horrifically, with an opening 3-and-out and giving up points on the other end. But this team has shown a quality that separates them from other recent iterations of Buff teams: they fight back. They somehow took the lead at halftime, and Folsom was in excited disbelief. A lead at the half? Against a conference foe? Unheard of. The mass exodus of students at half was reduced to a trickle. The magic wore on. CU might win this thing! And it call came crashing down at the hands of the unnamed PAC-12 ref. Kenneth Crawley made an amazing play, with an amazing outcome, and figuratively won the game. Then, halfway through the return, the ref decided what he saw five seconds earlier warranted a flag. Certain words between the student section and the refs were exchanged, and I haven't heard that much voracious booing since the midnight showing of "Godzilla". While the end result is not ideal, we saw another hard-fought game in which CU did 90% of the job competently, and that's massive improvement over year's past. While those outside the program may point to the record and say "same ol' Buffs", those that follow the program can just smile, point to ANY stat other than W-L, and say" we'll see about next year. Also, Roll Tad".
This offense, whether they like it or not, lives and dies by the run game. Luckily for them, they have one of the best run games in the country. It all starts with Javorius "Buck" Allen. The best running back in the PAC-12 has had a fantastic season. He has a 5.8 yards per carry and 7 touchdowns thus far, and he has USC positioned atop the PAC-12 South. Behind USC's massive offensive line, Allen has found plenty of room and made his own. Giving him rest is Justin Davis, who is a little smaller and shiftier. Cody Kessler has been solid, but unspectacular, giving the Trojans a stable presence behind center for the first time in a while. He has not won games for USC, but just as importantly, he hasn't lost any for the Trojans, and that is a large improvement over last year. Their receiving options have certainly been a downgrade compared to last year. Nelson Algholor leads the bunch, and he has improved over last year. He is certainly heading to the NFL last year, leaving USC with JuJu Smith and multiple other tantalizing options at receiver. However, this year, he is still terrorizing defenses, almost by himself. George Farmer is not the same running mate as Marqise Lee, and defenses have been able to focus on Algholor almost completely. CU should be able to shut down USC's passing game rather well, and Southern Cal's ability to move the ball depends on running the ball. Fortunately for them, they are very good at doing that and the Buffs are very bad at stopping that. This shakes out favorably for the Trojans.
This defense is a tale of two halves. Their front seven is a fearsome beast. Led by Leonard Williams, they make CU look even more like the high schoolers they so recently were. The back four is a different story for USC. Su'a Cravens is a stud in the making, but this young unit is highly susceptible to lapses. For CU to have consistent success, they will have to move the pile up front, and that is a very tall order. Leonard Williams is the biggest name on a defensive line full of "big". Every member is 280 pounds or heavier, with Antwaun Woods leading the pack at 315. The edges are stout, and can bring some pressure, so Jeromey Irwin and Stephane Nembot will have to play out of their minds to get anything going outside. On the interior, I worry that our guards are too undersized to generate any push against this front, and I will be praying that they don't give up any ground. The situation becomes less dire as we move back. The once-feared USC linebacking corps is a far cry from the machine that churned out NFL talent yearly. Hayes Pullard is the veteran leader in the middle, being the steady hand for a very young defense. A natural transition from linebackers to secondary would be Su'a Cravens. The S/LB sometimes plays in the box for the Trojans, and he started at outside linebacker for them last week. He's a dynamic athlete with the ability to disrupt whatever the opposing offense wants to do. He covers as well he hits, and his name will be called plenty of times on Saturday. The rest of the secondary is extremely inexperienced. 6/8 of the two-deep are either freshman or sophmores, with two starters being underclassmen. Expect CU to go after highly touted recruit Adoree Jackson. As Buff fans know, a true freshman starting at corner is never ideal, and expect plenty of mistakes from his side of the ball.
CU's Oline vs. USC's Dline - Advantage: USC. This matchup falls very heavily in the Trojans' favor. While the offensive line has certainly improved this year for the Buffs, facing one of the best lines in the country does them no favors. Expect disruption all day and misdirection to counter that.
USC's Oline vs. CU's Dline - Advantage: Slightly USC. USC's offensive line is not nearly as dominant as their defensive line, in large part due to their youth. However, physically, they still tower over CU's undersized defensive front. I expect Derek McCartney to have another good game, but the DE may get washed out a lot, be it Jimmie Gilbert or Christian Shaver. Josh Tupou needs to have the game of his life here.
CU's QB vs. USC's DB's - Advantage: Slightly CU. This is one head-to-head that I feel CU could easily win. Sefo Liufau has more than proved himself this season, and USC's DB's are coming off a game in which Anu Solomon threw all over them. Liufau should be able to pick apart this secondary rather easily, and moving the ball through the air should not be a problem. If it is, this game is over before it began.
USC's QB vs. CU's DB's - Advantage: Slightly CU. Cody Kessler's stats look fantastic this year, but I am still hesitant to say he's improved. The Buffs defensive backs have been the strength of the team thus far, and they should hold up well against Kessler's one-dimensional attack.
CU's Skill Players (WR, TE, RB) vs. USC's Back 7 (LB's and DB's) - Advantage: Push. Nelson Spruce had his worst game of the year last week, and he should be looking to rebound from that mugging with a great game here. I expect CU's receiving corps to win the individual matchups and get open. However, I fear that Colorado's running backs will have no room to run. I hope Michael Adkins builds off his great game with another great effort, but as of right now, expect the run game to stall a lot in this game.
USC's Skill Players vs. CU's Back 7 - Advantage: USC. "Buck" Allen makes this a win for USC. One of the best running backs in the country facing one of the worst run defenses in the country. This should be fun to watch (no, it won't be). I think our secondary can shut down Algholor and friends, but an injured Gillam and Olugbode are no match for Allen and it will play out as such.
Special Teams - Advantage: USC. This continues to be the other team until CU shows some consistency on kickoff returns and coverage. Phillip Lindsay is doing pretty well back there, but he can't bust everything out himself all the time. According to the F+/- rankings. special teams is by far our worst area of the game, ranked 91st overall. Let's see if Neinas can keep his job by the end of the year.
USC has an opportunity to control this game from start to finish. They have advantages on both sides of the line of scrimmage and superior talent. But much like CU, they are prone to youthful mistakes. CU should have a chance, provided they play a great game. If they win the turnover battle, something that has happened very rarely the past 3 years, then they put themselves in great position to pull off the upset. However, this defense has not shown the propensity to prey off others' mistakes. I bet USC wins 27-17, on the back of "Buck" Allen. The Buffs are getting better, so much better, but this year, the curve is too steep to catch up to anyone else.