Saturday night’s USC vs. Colorado game featured a dominant defensive performance for the Trojans, who beat the previously undefeated Buffs, 31-20.
The lowdown: To call Saturday night’s USC vs. Colorado game a weird game would be an understatement. The Pac-12 South showdown had a little bit of everything.
Both teams combined for 76 total yards of offense and no points in the first quarter, before Colorado talisman Laviska Shenault opened the scoring with a 49-yard wildcat keeper with just under 12 minutes to play in the half.
USC would answer with a 28-0 run stretching into the third quarter, including a trio of JT Daniels touchdown passes —two to Michael Pittman— and an Ajene Harris pick six. With 28-7 lead and a defensive performance classified as ‘dominant’ at times, it looked like the Trojans were well on their way to a blowout win at the Coliseum.
But as USC is prone to do, they allowed yet another team to stay in the game. Velus Jones and Amon-Ra St. Brown dropped what could’ve been back-breaking touchdowns downfield, and the defense wore down after having to be on the field for 50 snaps in the second half.
Colorado scored a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to cut the score to 31-20 and made it a game, before being stopped on a fourth down in the game’s final moments.
Daniels finished the night 17-of-34 passing for 272 yards, the vast majority of that in the first half. He threw a pair of first quarter-interceptions, and three second-quarter touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Colorado quarterback Steven Montez, who led the nation in completion percentage coming in, completed just 55.3 percent of his passes and led the Buffs to just 265 total yards on 84 plays.
The takeaway: Laviska Shenault and Steven Montez led Colorado to 5-0 start, while making the Buffaloes offense look like one of the brightest in the country. That wasn’t the case Saturday night, as Clancy Pendergast’s USC defense stifled them despite not being with Butkus Award candidate Cameron Smith at middle linebacker.
In Smith’s absence, true freshman Palaie Gaoteote turned in a stellar game before leaving due to concussion symptoms, making a strong argument to wear the No. 55 jersey. He recorded nine tackles, two run stuffs and a pair of tackles for loss. Up front, Pac-12 sack leader Porter Gustin was just as menacing, looking downright unblockable at times.
USC finished with 16 tackles for loss and held Colorado to just 3.15 yards per play, the Trojans’ best statistical performance on defense in five years, dating back to the 2013 Utah game.
You could call it the Ewing Theory or Colorado not being as good as advertised, but this strong of a defensive outing was massive without the loss of their best player, Smith. That should be the story of the game.
But alas, USC’s offense yet again not putting a team away becomes the story many will remember. They dropped money shots downfield, struggled to run the ball successfully and ran 26 fewer plays than Colorado in the second half for 79 total yards, giving the defense a raw deal, per usual.
That’s got to stop if the Trojans are truly going to become a team worthy of a third-straight New Years Six Bowl at the end of the season.
Player of the game: After showing several glimpses , Michael Pittman showed everybody how dominant of a receiver he can be against Colorado. The junior had a pair of second quarter touchdowns, including a 65-yard strike on a jump-ball bomb downfield. Pittman finished with five catches for 144 yards.
Stat of the game: The Trojans’ front seven was dominant Saturday, wracking up 16 tackles for loss, their most in a single game since the 2009 San Jose State game. Porter Gustin led the way with 2.5, including a 1.5 sacks.
Next on tap: USC now heads to Salt Lake City for perhaps the most important game of the season, facing red-hot Utah in a stadium they’ve lost two heartbreakers in a row. The Pac-12 South crown could be on the line.