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USC Football Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A With Colorado Blogger

Jacob Freedman |
October 18, 2012 | 6:58 a.m. PDT

Associate Sports Editor

The Buffaloes look to be a year away from contention in the Pac-12 (Monica's Dad/Flickr).
The Buffaloes look to be a year away from contention in the Pac-12 (Monica's Dad/Flickr).
We're halfway through the college football season, and USC is sitting at 5-1, ranked 11th in the nation, as they return home to face a team with the opposite record in the 1-5 Colorado Buffaloes.

While Colorado is going through a down year, the Buffaloes should provide valuable experience for the Trojans as USC prepares for a brutal November slate where they play two top five squads in Oregon and Notre Dame while also facing rival UCLA at the Rose Bowl. 

To gain another viewpoint on the upcoming game, we reached out to Jon Woods of SBNation's Colorado blog, The Ralphie Report, to ask for his insights on Saturday's match-up.

Jacob Freedman: Colorado was expected to struggle again this season, and losing star WR Paul Richardson to a torn knee ligament in the preseason didn’t help. Neither did having to bring in 15 new starters. The Buffaloes lost narrowly to Colorado State and FCS squad Sacramento State to begin the season, and now have a 1-5 record, the win coming in a surprising road victory over Washington State.  Through a season and a half in the Pac-12, the Buffaloes are 3-9 in Pac-12 play and 4-15 overall.  What do you think has been the reason for Colorado’s struggles in the Pac-12 during their time in the conference, and how big of a factor do you think having to adjust to a new conference has played?

Jon Woods: I don't think the new conference has much, if anything, to do with it. The Pac-12 move was just bad timing because the state of the program was in such disarray. Dan Hawkins destroyed this football program, he was never the right fit to return Colorado to prominence. His tenure, added on top of the tenuous end of Gary Barnett's time in Boulder left the team with no depth, very little leadership, and a long road back to success.  

The dreadful Dan Hawkins era in Colorado has hurt the Colorado program long-term (Monica's Dad/Flickr).
The dreadful Dan Hawkins era in Colorado has hurt the Colorado program long-term (Monica's Dad/Flickr).
JF: On the note of change, what sort of play schemes and fundamental changes have second-year coach Jon Embree tried to make during his time in Boulder? How successful have they been, and what issues have arose with the new system so far?

JW: The defense has stayed somewhat similar to the previous regime (coordinator Greg Brown was here prior to heading to Tucson) and has adjusted more to individual personnel than to overhaul the scheme. The offense has changed much more significantly. Jon Embree and Eric Bienemy want to run a pro-style offense and move away from the spread system that Dan Hawkins always tried (unsuccessfully) to install. Embree and his staff are slowly starting to fill the ranks with players who can work in that system, but he needs at least another class to complete the puzzle.   

JF: Quarterback Jordan Webb transferred from Kansas this offseason, and was able to play immediately since he finished his undergraduate degree back with the Jayhawks. He has thrown for eight touchdowns to four interceptions while completing 56.5% of his passes so far. What were the expectations for Webb heading into the season, and has he met them?

JW: Webb with this team and offense was a complete unknown so there weren't really any expectations of him heading into the season. Most of us were surprised when he was named the starter so quickly after Jon Embree and quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer said that the Buffaloes could head into week one with a rotation at the position. Even the most optimistic of Buffs fans didn't think that Webb could be a world beater, but they did hope that he could at least be a game manager. He has done that... about 25% of the time. The other 75% is an extremely inconsistent performance that just isn't getting it done. 

Matt Barkley and Robert Woods will look to pad their statistics against the inconsistent Colorado pass defense (James Santelli/Neon Tommy).
Matt Barkley and Robert Woods will look to pad their statistics against the inconsistent Colorado pass defense (James Santelli/Neon Tommy).
JF: The loss of Richardson was a devastating blow for the wide receiving core, but Nelson Spruce has emerged with 27 catches for 291 yards despite being a freshman. What are your impressions with Spruce, and what is the prognosis on the rest of the Buffaloes’ pass-catchers?

JW: We all expected big things out of Spruce last year in his true freshman year based on the rumblings coming out of camp, but an injury just before the start of the season caused him to redshirt. This year, he's picked up right where we had hoped. Spruce will never be a gamebreaker, but he will be an excellent possession receiver in the mold of Scotty McKnight. The rest of the unit is also extremely young, but there is some talent. Tyler McCulloch is a true sophomore who is finally learning to use his height to his advantage and true freshman Gerald Thomas is getting more and more opportunities and has the most playmaking ability on the team. 

JF: The Colorado running game has struggled, and is ranked 109th in the nation with 110 yards per game. How close are the Buffaloes to finding a main running back, or do you think a running back by committee approach is best? What do you think the outlook is for the ground game against an improving Trojan run defense on Saturday?

JW: It's a bit silly to expect a strong running game when you have been trailing for a significant amount of all of the games you've participated in. That being said, Christian Powell has been a revelation. The true freshman fullback from Upland, California (originally committed to UCLA) has displayed fantastic feet and great speed even though he barely ever carried the ball in his life. He missed the game against Arizona State, but should return on Saturday.  

JF: Colorado has allowed the second-most sacks in the Pac-12 with 27. USC is sixth in the nation with 22 sacks on the year. Something’s got to give. How worried are you about Colorado’s offensive line holding up against sackmaster Morgan Breslin and the rest of the Trojans’ front seven?

JW: No offense to the USC defensive line, but we are hoping that the Sun Devil pass rush was the best we will face all season. That certainly remains to be seen. The Buffalo offensive line has been improving every game, but I'm sure the Trojans will be able to put plenty of pressure on Webb.  

JF: The Colorado defense is among the nation’s worst, allowing nearly 500 yards per game and allowing over 40 points per contest. The Buffaloes have allowed 20 passing touchdowns, tied for first in college football. What does the defense need to do in order to not be blown out of the water by Matt Barkley and the Trojan offense? How well do you think they’ll be able to stop the Trojans dynamic duo of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods at wide receiver?

JW: Well the spread is 41 points, so I'd say the answer to that question is "they won't." The Buffaloes' pass rush has been consistently decent and the ridiculously young secondary has continued to improve, but it's much more a case of "slow" the offense than it is "stop." Ray Polk returning to the safety spot could make a big difference, but this defense has not shown the ability to hold an offense down for an entire game. At all. 

Leonard Williams (left) and Morgan Breslin lead a surprisingly powerful Trojan pass rush (James Santelli/NT).
Leonard Williams (left) and Morgan Breslin lead a surprisingly powerful Trojan pass rush (James Santelli/NT).
JF: Led by Chidera Uzo-Diribe, the Colorado pass rush is arguably the team’s most talented unit. What can Uzo-Diribe do in order to get to Matt Barkley and disrupt the passing game, and who else on the front seven has the ability to put pressure on the Trojans’ offensive line?

JW: Will Pericak and, surprisingly, Kirk Poston have both done well alongside Uzo-Diribe, rushing the passer. The problem is the performance drops off in the second half when the offense adjusts and the defense endearingly chooses not to.  

JF: The Trojans are currently 40.5-point favorites, a remarkable number for any conference match-up. Colorado might not have a big chance to win this game, but what kind of improvements have you seen from the start of the season and what will you look for on Saturday?

JW: A returning Christian Powell and Gerald Thomas give me a slight sliver of hope of offensive improvement, but I think we will see very similar performances to what we have seen so far. As I have mentioned, the secondary has continued to improve from week to week and I'm intrigued to see if they show up on Saturday.  

JF: What is your prediction for Saturday’s game, including final score?

JW: Trojans win and just miss the cover. 48-10.  

We'd like to give Jon Woods of The Ralphie Report many thanks for his contributions.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Jacob Freedman here or follow him on Twitter



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