USC vs. Colorado score, summary: Trojans hang on in Boulder

BOULDER, CO - NOVEMBER 11: Ronald Jones II
BOULDER, CO - NOVEMBER 11: Ronald Jones II /

The USC vs. Colorado score in Boulder finished with the Trojans hanging on for a 38-24 win despite a shaky at-times performance.

The lowdown: The action in Colorado was less-than-stellar in the first quarter as USC’s offense racked up yards but failed to capitalize, missing a field goal and failing on a fourth down conversion in the early going.

In the second, Michael Pittman carried USC down the field, making a clutch third down grab when Sam Darnold avoided pressure and extended the play. Then the big wide out went up high over Colorado’s top-flight cornerback Isaiah Oliver for his first career touchdown.

The Trojans followed that up with a drive starring Tyler Vaughns. The redshirt freshman caught two long passes down the sideline from Darnold to get USC in scoring position, despite a head-scratching personal foul on Vaughns for spinning the ball after a catch.

Deontay Burnett finished off the drive by breaking a tackle on his way into the endzone, 14-0.

Colorado mounted a menacing drive in response, but the Trojan defense stiffened at the 30-yard line, stopping Buffalo quarterback Steven Montez short on third-and-two. The ensuing field goal attempt was blocked by freshman lineman Brandon Pili.

When USC was unable to sneak in one more offensive score before the half, Colorado tried to find late points of their own, but nickelback Ajene Harris jumped a pass to the outside and ran the tightrope down the sideline to add to the Trojan lead. A missed extra point left it at 20-0.

To start the second half, Colorado moved the ball effectively, but again USC held them out of the endzone, forcing a field goal attempt. And again a Trojan lineman got a hand on the ball, this time freshman tackle Austin Jackson batted it down.

Darnold decided it was his turn in the spotlight on the next USC drive, finding Burnett on a deep throw before taking the ball himself 24 yards for a touchdown as the Trojans took a commanding 27-0 lead.

Only, the lead became far less commanding as Colorado took a bite out of the deficit in short order. First, blown coverage by Jack Jones resulted in a 79-yard touchdown for Juwann Winfree. Then a blocked punt set the Buffaloes up at the one-yard line, where Phillip Lindsay punched it in to make it 27-14.

The two teams traded field goals before Ronald Jones II took over, capping off a 72-yard drive with a 22-yard cutback touchdown.

The celebration was short-lived as Montez hit Winfree, who came wide open against Jack Jones, for a 57-yard score.

With the game at 38-24, USC had the chance to put it away for good when Harris grabbed another interception, but his pitch to Marvell Tell resulting in a touchdown was called back because the defensive back’s knee down. The Trojans failed to convert a fourth down and Colorado got the ball back with time to make it interesting.

An interesting it was as the Buffaloes converted two fourth downs on their way to the goal line with two minutes remaining.

On fourth-and-short at the two-yard line, a crowd of USC defenders sacked Montez to end the Buffaloes hopes.

The Trojans held on for a 38-24 victory.

The takeaway: USC clinched the Pac-12 South division title, and that’s all that really mattered in Boulder.

Still, it was another sloppy, frustrating performance for the Trojans as they moved to 9-2 on the season.

Darnold was efficient and Jones II was electric at times, but USC’s offense still struggled to finish off the Buffaloes, hampered by penalties and other major individual mistakes. Meanwhile the Trojan defense was vulnerable to big plays through the air because of coverage breakdowns.

In the end, USC didn’t let Colorado get much closer than two scores, but the struggling Buffaloes put up more of a fight than expected.

Player of the game: Ronald Jones II, whose 142 yards moved him to sixth on USC’s all-time rushers list.

Stat of the game: USC was 4-of-14 on third down and 1-of-3 on fourth.

Next on tap: The Crosstown Showdown between USC and UCLA will be played for pride on November 18 at the Coliseum.