USC vs Colorado Report Card 2016: Grading the Trojan Offense

October 8, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (14) throws against the Colorado Buffaloes during the first half at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
October 8, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (14) throws against the Colorado Buffaloes during the first half at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

An otherwise impressive offensive performance for USC vs Colorado was plagued by costly turnovers as the Trojans held on for a 21-17 victory.

USC’s offense moved the ball with a fair amount of ease, racking up 539 yards of offense against Colorado. In fact, few could have argued that the Trojans shouldn’t have been well on their way to a blowout by the time the half time whistle blew.

Unfortunately for the men of Troy, devastating turnovers, particularly in the third quarter, kept USC from taking complete control of the game.

As a result, the Trojans needed key individual contributions late in the contest to get the 21-17 win.

SEE ALSO: Grading the Trojan Defense vs Colorado

Here’s how each offensive unit graded out against the Buffaloes:

C. . Standout. Sam Darnold. QUARTERBACK

It was a tale of two halves for Sam Darnold who was excellent in the opening two periods of the game but made critical mistakes to set his team back.

Darnold navigated the offense excellently and threw two first half touchdowns to give USC the early lead, but fumbled at the goal line on the first Trojan drive.

That first turnover was unfortunate, another example of the young quarterback losing the ball while fighting for extra gains. It wasn’t his last, however, as Darnold’s performance slipped towards the dangerous side of the risk-reward spectrum.

With a fumble and interception on back-to-back third quarter drives, Darnold put the Trojans in a hole and allowed the Buffaloes the chance to tie the game.

B. . Standout. Justin Davis. RUNNING BACK

Justin Davis looked well on his way to a third consecutive 100-yard rushing game, with 13 carries for 83 yards, before he sprained his ankle in the third quarter.

That Davis remains USC’s most effective rusher was clear against Colorado. He averaged 6.4 yards per carry, a rate un-padded by any long runs.

Unfortunately, he also had a critical fumble on his longest carry of the day, which is an unfortunate trend for the senior running back.

After Davis’ injury, Ronald Jones II and Aca’Cedric Ware carried the load, but neither quite filled Davis’ shoes.

Jones finished with 56 yards on ten carries while Ware had eight carries for 25 yards. While Jones still hasn’t lived up to last year’s electric play, it’s worth noting his final five carries on USC’s last two drives were particularly positive. He moved the chains twice and averaged better than seven yards per play.

A. . Standout. JuJu Smith-Schuster. RECEIVER

When looking back on the 2016 season, this performance by the Trojan receivers might be highlighted as the bar to aim for in every game.

JuJu Smith-Schuster had 113 yards on five first-down-converting catches, effectively ending the game on his final reception by going down with an eye towards killing the clock instead of jogging in for an easy touchdown which would have put the ball back in the Buffaloes hands.

Darreus Rogers made perhaps the most pivotal play of the game by snatching a sure interception out of Chidobe Awuzie’s hands for a 46-yard reception, setting up the game-winning touchdown.

Steven Mitchell led the Trojans with six catches and Deontay Burnett was a consistent target as well.

The Trojans tight ends were as active in this game as they have been in recent years with Tyler Petite and Daniel Imatorbhebhe accounting for all three touchdowns.

B. . Standout. Chad Wheeler. OFFENSIVE LINE

Despite being without starting right tackle Zach Banner for the second game this season, the Trojan offensive line held up well against Colorado.

The o-line cleared the way for just under 200 yards rushing and allowed just one sack on the day. That one sack was also the lone tackle for loss for the Buffaloes.

Not that it was a perfect performance. The line struggled to generate push in the second half when USC was trying to run clock with Ware and Jones.

The biggest reason for a positive grade this week on the offensive line? Zero penalties.

A disciplined outing from the big men upfront on a day when USC had four turnovers kept the Trojans out of further trouble — something that Colorado’s offensive front did not to on the other side.

A. . Standout. Tee Martin. COACHING

Coaches can’t control turnovers, which were by far the biggest problem for the Trojans against Colorado.

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Fumbles and interception aside, the USC offense came out with a gameplan to dominate the Buffaloes. USC’s balanced offense was just that, effectively using the run and the pass in unison.

When Colorado tried to load up against the Trojan rushing attack, USC made great use of bubble screens on the outside to soften up the middle. They diversified the offense with tight ends. They made use of the middle of the field.

The big debatable fourth down coaching decision of the day was far from the disaster of past choices. Some might disagree with Clay Helton’s attempt on fourth-and-six from the Colorado 31 yard line in the third quarter, but it was an aggressive decision which simply didn’t work out.