Friday night’s USC vs. Colorado final score was a shocker, with the Trojans finding a way to narrowly escape with a win over heavy underdog CU.
The lowdown: USC and Colorado played to a sloppy shootout Friday night, with the Trojans eking out a 35-31 road victory, despite a 10-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter.
The Buffaloes, who struggled mightily the last two games, put up a whopping 520 yards with big-time performances from quarterback Steven Montez and wide receiver Laviska Shenault. They completely gashed Clancy Pendergast’s defense, using misdirection, speed and the mobility of Montez to move at will and build a substantial lead. CU was up 31-21 going into the fourth quarter despite a slew of penalties.
On the other side of the ball, Colorado’s defense equally struggled, with USC gaining 518 yards of total offense themselves. The Trojans’ vaunted receiving corps had open grass all night, leading to Kedon Slovis throwing for a career-high 406 yards. Yet, like the Buffs, the Trojans kept getting in their own way. Their vice? Errant throws on third down and untimely breakdowns in pass protection, resulting in killed-off drives and squandered opportunities.
It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the game turned. Montez, who left the game to go through concussion protocol, returned and struggled. USC’s defense capitalized, holding Colorado to just 2.6 yards per play in the final 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, USC put together two crucial scoring drives, including a 12-play, 89-yard march to take the lead with 2:12 to play. Michael Pittman scored both fourth quarter touchdowns. One came on a 44-yard bomb down the sideline, and the other on a high-effort 37-yard jaunt across the field in a race to the pylon.
The Trojans completed a double-digit fourth quarter comeback for the first time since the 2017 Rose Bowl, running their season record to 5-3 (4-1).
The takeaway: In the weirdest of ways, USC won a football game they simultaneously had no business losing and no business winning.
It was yet another display of USC’s duality as a team. They are so talented, so resilient and have so much heart that they refuse to crater late in games. But much like the BYU game, they put themselves in a position they never should’ve been in in the first place, playing down to a team well below their level.
Going in, there was no football reason for USC to lose at Colorado. The Buff defense was one of the worst in the nation, ranking 129th in yards per play allowed. Their offense scored just 13 points the last two weeks, with Steven Montez having an atrocious month of October.
But right on cue, as they’ve done for a decade, the Trojans just couldn’t take advantage of their talent and turned in yet another a sloppy, mistake-filled road game. Particularly on defense, where Clancy Pendergast’s squad got trounced repeatedly, putting the team in an inexcusable hole. If it wasn’t for Colorado’s costly offensive penalties, who knows how much damage they could’ve done.
This time, they were able to pull it out, unlike each of their three previous winnable road losses. They capitalized as Colorado faltered late and the Trojans’ best players proved to be their best players when they needed them the most.
In a Pac-12 season that’s anyone’s for the taking, with a million injuries and while playing on a short week, that’s a notable feather in USC’s cap. They could’ve easily caved down when double-digits, but a win at Colorado keeps their Rose Bowl dreams alive.
Though if they play anywhere close to how they did in Boulder on defense, those doors will close swiftly with Oregon coming up next week. Thankfully for the Trojans, they get the Ducks at home, where Clay Helton’s teams play significantly better.
Player of the game: Kedon Slovis wasn’t perfect. His miscues in the third quarter cost USC ample opportunities to get back into the game. But his resilience in the fourth quarter despite the struggles —all of which could’ve doomed his confidence— showed just how bright his future is. He was 9-of-13 passing for 148 yards and two touchdowns in the final frame. For the season to date, Slovis now sports an obscene fourth quarter passer rating of 198.26.
It also helps to have Michael Pittman, who tallied 156 receiving yards on the night. He needed every last one of them for USC to escape with a victory.
Stat of the game: Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown had three carries for 50 rushing yards, including a 37-yard touchdown. He was surprisingly used as the Trojans’ No. 2 option at running back.
Next on tap: USC returns to the friendly confines of the Coliseum next Saturday to play the red-hot Oregon Ducks. The entire season on the line. No pressure.