The University of Southern California Trojans currently sit at a very wild 4-2, while the University of Colorado Buffaloes sit at an aggravating 2-4. The Buffs, I think, are clearly better than their record would suggest while the Trojans are talented enough to be undefeated, but could also very easily be coming into this game at 3-3. Here are three things that will matter if the Buffs are to pull off what would be a substantially large upset.
Through 6 games the Buffs have exhibited mostly solid tackling, highlighted by the play of the secondary. Tedric Thompson, Kenneth Crawley and Chidobe Awuzie in particular have done an exceptional job of wrapping up in the open field. As I mentioned on Wednesday, the linebackers will need to make smart maneuvers and make the tackle the first chance they get in order to contain Buck Allen and USC's stable of athletes. If the Buffs are able to get to Cody Kessler at points, it's critical that they actually bring him down. In multiple instances against Oregon State the CU defense had Sean Mannion dead to rights but either over-pursued or did not wrap up, allowing him to stay on his feet and make a big play. Kessler is a fine quarterback but he's not at the level of some that the Buffs have already seen, they have to take full advantage of pressure when they get it.
At this point it's pretty clear that if CU is moving the ball it's because they're throwing it. The ground game showed some sparks of life against Oregon State but it's far from something that defenses need to key on. USC's defense has at times looked like both the best unit in the conference and a middle-of-the-road sieve. Nelson Spruce, Shay Fields, D.D. Goodson and Co. should be able to find their way to open spots. Sefo Liufau has had an incredible season so far but he's also made some critical mistakes, notably the interceptions against Cal and Oregon State. He's improving all the time but the margin of error only gets smaller from here and he'll have to be near perfect in this one. If the offensive line can continue to provide decent protection Sefo could be able to make some plays through the air.
Look no farther than last Saturday night for how crucial a kicker can instantly become. USC would have, and really should have, lost that game but for a wide-right second attempt at a very makeable kick. Through the first half of 2014 Will Oliver is off to a rocky start but his 44-yard make against Oregon State should go a long way towards boosting his confidence. The issue he seems to have from the right hash marks is concerning but I'm going to chalk that up as a correctable mental matter. Still, to be safe the offense should try to get that ball on the left side whenever possible. The Buffs can ill afford any missed opportunities at points. Field position will also be a component of import in this game. Giving USC consistently short fields is a grave mistake and something the Buffs should try not to do. Darragh O'Neill has had a steady season to this point, averaging 46 yards a punt and pinning opponents inside their own 20-yard line about 50% of the time. His rugby-style kicking has proven effective and he'll need to be on his game come Saturday afternoon.
I think the Buffs really do have enough in them to bust out a massive upset in the Coliseum. But, it's going to take a complete game and very few, maybe zero, mistakes. I'm not sure this team, as young as they still are, is fully capable of sustaining a performance like that through four quarters. They may win a couple frames, maybe even three, but the biggest question surrounding CU is whether or not they'll learn how to win this season and in this league that involves a full game of high-level play. Here's to Saturday being the mammoth breakthrough that these Buffs seem so close to attaining.