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USC Football: Colorado Preview and Analysis

Andrew Parrone |
November 4, 2011 | 9:57 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Colorado (Brent Flanders/Creative Commons)
Colorado (Brent Flanders/Creative Commons)

The Trojans are officially on the rebound.

USC (6-2) travels to Boulder for their first conference matchup with new Pac-12 member Colorado (1-8).

The Trojans may still be in a daze after last week’s epic three-overtime loss to undefeated Stanford, falling 56-48 in front of a packed Coliseum.

The Buffaloes continue to struggle in their first season out of the Big 12, getting pounded by Arizona State last week 48-14.

What to Watch For:

It will be interesting to see which USC team shows up in Boulder. If it's the team that went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country, the Trojans will dominate from the opening kickoff.

But if they are still distracted by last week's result, there could be a huge emotional letdown against Colorado. The Buffs have been bad this year, but they are capable of pulling off the upset.

This is the first meeting between the two schools as conference foes, and first meeting since the Trojans flattened the Buffs 40-3 in 2002. It was that victory that really started the Trojans on their incredible roll over the last decade.

Injuries have started to pile up for the Trojans, who now have a number of important players on the mend. WR Robert Woods never looked quite right against the Cardinal, RB Marc Tyler aggravated his dislocated shoulder and LB Dion Bailey suffered a concussion.

But USC has no room to complain about injuries when compared to CU. The Buffs have been absolutely decimated by injuries so far, with their best three offensive skill players (QB Tyler Hansen, RB Rodney Stewart, WR Paul Richardson) all missing time with various ailments.

Weather may also be an issue for the Trojans up in the thin Boulder air. Game time temperature is expected to be about 47 degrees, which is quite the change from last week's perfect Southern California game weather. Fortunately it is not expected to snow.

When USC is on Offense:

Matt Barkley (James Santelli/Neon Tommy)
Matt Barkley (James Santelli/Neon Tommy)
While QB Matt Barkley (pictured left) didn’t outplay Stanford's Andrew Luck, he certainly played well enough to consider the matchup a draw. He showed composure in the midst of a ferocious pass rush, and other than his interception didn’t make one bad decision.

This week Trojan fans may actually get to see a quarterback other than Barkley take a snap. If the game is clearly in control during the second half, Jesse Scroggins could see his first college action. 

At no point did it appear that Woods was completely healthy. He dropped several passes, and his longest gain on the night was 19 yards. But Kiffin claims Woods been hurt all season, so don't expect anything less than his usual greatness.

Marqise Lee has continued to make plays despite being banged up, even sacrificing his body as he unsuccessfully dove for the end zone in the third OT. 

However, while his taunting penalty didn't directly lead to Stanford points, the shift in field position came back to bite the Trojans. Hopefully he has learned from that one.

It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Colorado's secondary is struggling this season after losing Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown to the NFL Draft.

The Buffs have only picked off three passes so far, and have allowed 22 touchdowns. And when a safety (Anthony Perkins) is a team's leading tackler, that means there are a lot of plays further down the field. Barkley and crew should carve up Colorado through the air.

Woods has gotten the most love from Barkley, but USC's tight ends are becoming a bigger part of the passing game. You couldn’t help but be reminded of Fred Davis as Randall Telfer weaved his way into the endzone during overtime.

Xavier Grimble is a huge target in the short passing game because of his size, and his hands are getting more reliable. And of course, you cannot overlook the incredible job Rhett Ellison is doing as a blocker at both tight end and fullback. 

Curtis McNeal (Shotgun Spratling/Neon Tommy)
Curtis McNeal (Shotgun Spratling/Neon Tommy)
As recently as two weeks ago, USC's offensive front was still seen as the team's major weakness. This is certainly not the case anymore, especially after Matt Kalil and Co. paved the way for Curtis McNeal's (pictured right) huge night, and held the Pac-12's best pass-rushing team without a sack.

As poorly as Colorado has played, they have been effective at getting after the quarterback, ranking fifth in the Pac-12 with 21 sacks. Chidera Uzo-Diribe is the Buffs' most dangerous pass rusher with 5.5 sacks, and rush linebacker Josh Hartigan has tallied four.

Even though it was McNeal’s fumble into the endzone that ended the game, it would be difficult to find many USC fans that would blame the loss on him. The way he faced reporters after the game and didn’t make excuses says a lot about his attitude going forward.

McNeal’s second-half outburst gave the Trojans new life against the Cardinal, and for the third consecutive week he established a new career high in rushing yards with 145.

Colorado's only reliable run stopper is linebacker Jon Major, so McNeal should have a big game, especially with Tyler likely sidelined.

Andre Heidari didn't show any ill effects from an ankle injury last week, even nailing a 50-yard field goal. Unfortunately, he was not able to get his shot to win the game at the end of regulation. This week, he gets the added benefit of kicking at altitude.

When Colorado is on Offense:

QB Tyler Hansen (John Martinez Pavliga/Creative Commons)
QB Tyler Hansen (John Martinez Pavliga/Creative Commons)

Colorado’s offense should get a big break this week with both Stewart and Richardson returning. Without them, there is no chance of the Buffaloes pulling off the upset.

Playing QB behind Colorado’s porous offensive line hasn’t been easy, but Hansen (pictured left) has managed to put up some decent numbers in his final season in Boulder, throwing for over 2,000 yards so far. And he is nifty enough outside the pocket to give the Trojans some problems.

As expected, the defense came up with several big plays when Monte Kiffin dialed up pressure against Luck. Devon Kennard registered his first sack of the season, and Wes Horton notched his third. Those two, along with Nick Perry, should be able to wreak havoc on a Colorado line that has already given up 28 sacks on the year.

The Buffs have been equally ineffective at opening holes for Stewart in the ground game, averaging only 90 yards per contest. This is even more surprising considering that Colorado had a potential All-America candidate at guard in Ryan Miller.

Stewart has represented most of Colorado's offense for the past two years, but has not been able to match that production this year. Still, if the senior is able to play, he poses a significant challenge for the Trojans.

The linebackers may find it hard to corral Stewart if they are missing Bailey. At this point he has not been cleared to play, so true freshman Tre Madden would fill in on the strongside. Chris Galippo and Hayes Pullard will need to pick up the slack if Bailey is not able to go.

Nickell Robey (Sara Ramsey/Neon Tommy)
Nickell Robey (Sara Ramsey/Neon Tommy)
Most of Richardson's numbers came in a huge performance against Cal, but he is still far and away the best big-play threat the Buffs have. He has averaged nearly 100 yards a game receiving, and his five touchdowns lead the team even though he's missed four games.

No one has responded to criticism over the past couple weeks than USC CB Nickell Robey (pictured right). He has finally started to play like the Pac-12 candidate most thought he would be before the season, intercepting passes in each of the past two games. Colorado likes to air it out, so he and the others corners are going to be tested often.

With McDonald suspended, Drew McAllister gets the start at free safety. Since intercepting three passes during his true freshman season, he has been considered the team's best ballhawk.

But injuries have largely kept the junior sidelined since then. Expect him to make the most of this opportunity, especially if USC's line can force Hansen into some bad throws. Jawanza Starling also has missed some practice time this week, so Marshall Jones may be joining McAllister as a new starter.


There is no getting around it: Last week took a heavy toll on the Trojans, both physically and mentally. It’s hard to quickly recover from such a painful loss, especially against a team of Stanford’s caliber.

That's why USC lucked out in getting Colorado on their schedule this week. The Buffs simply haven’t been very good, and the Trojans should be able to take out some of their frustrations on the Pac-12 cellar dweller.

I expect USC to roll over the Buffs, 45-11. They will probably come out a bit lethargic, but Barkley, Kalil and Galippo will quickly rally the troops for a much needed big win.


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