I grew up in Colorado, just 45 minutes down the turnpike from Boulder. In Colorado, at least 20 years ago, Buffaloes didn’t just reside at Folsom Field on the University of Colorado campus. They could be found all over the great state, roaming wild.
This evening, it will be the USC Trojans’ job to tame this wild, but majestic creature. Are they up for the task?
Can The Trojans Tame The Wild Buffaloes?
The Trojans travel to LA East for a Friday night clash against a Colorado team that slides into this game at 3-4. The Buffs have lost three straight and lost their last two games to Oregon and Washington State by a combined margin of 73 points.
USC, on the other hand, is coming off of a big win over Arizona at the Coliseum. That win, however, did not come without consequences.
Even with a dominant performance, the Trojans were struck with the injury bug, and many players are expected to be out for tonight’s contest.
Depleted Running Back Room
Looking at the running back position, Red-shirt Freshman, Markese Stepp, is out 3-5 weeks after tearing a ligament in his ankle. Stephen Carr is dealing with a hamstring injury and is doubtful. This leaves true freshman Kenan Christon as the guy to tote the rock for the Trojans.
Christon exploded last week in limited action for 103 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries. Those eight carries have been his only touches at this point in the season. It will be a true test for the young man as the featured back on a chilly night in Boulder.
There is no denying Christon’s speed and quickness. We talked on the Bleav in LA Football Podcast about how USC could have found their Thunder and Lightning 2.0 in the likes of Stepp and Christon, but for now, it will just be lightning. Will he be able to carry to load for a full game? I expect offensive coordinator Graham Harrell to draw up some schemes that will utilize his speed and get him into open space. It would be foolish for a player of his stature and lack of experience, to be ran 20+ times straight into the gauntlet that is the Colorado defensive line.
Lacking Star Prowess On Defense
Cornerback Olaijah Griffin is questionable. Linebacker Palaie Gaoteote IV is questionable. Defensive Lineman and leader Christian Rector is questionable. Linebacker Abdul-Malik McClain is out. Stud Defensive Lineman Drake Jackson is out. Star safety Talanoa Hufanga is out.
Those are a lot of big names that the Trojans will have to play without on a short week. The defense was stout last week against a high powered Wildcat rushing offense, but Colorado offers something much different.
Outside of Justin Herbert at Oregon, Colorado signal-call Steven Montez is the most experienced QB in the PAC-12. He is very hot and cold but has the tools to be a very successful and dangerous quarterback. With all of the injuries, USC is going to need someone to step up and rattle Montez early. If he is unable to find a comfortable rhythm, he is a very beatable QB.
Kana’i Mauga had a breakout game against Arizona and if the Trojans expect to tame the Buffaloes, he will be leaned on heavily is every facet.
Laviska Shenault Jr. is arguably one of the best wide receivers in the entire country, and certainly Montez’s go-to target. He can beat you in the deep game, but also in the screen game as he has elite speed. While Mauga will not be solely responsible for Shenault from the linebacker position, he will need to be active shutting down screen and bubble passes, something in Colorado’s arsenal that is used often. If Shenault Jr. is contained, even a banged-up USC defense should be able to dominate this side of the ball.
Slovis And The Slick Threes
So far in his young career, Kedon Slovis has been a different quarterback on the road. His record says it all as he is winless thus far. Boulder is no easy place to play as the crowd is raucous and it feels like they are right on top of you at beautiful Folsom Field.
What we can say about Slovis thus far is that he appears very polished and doesn’t make a lot of bad freshman mistakes. He is still learning and adapting, but he will need to get going early in this one, especially with his depleted running back stable.
Luckily for him, he has one of, if not the, best receiving corps in the country. Tyler Vaughns, Michael Pittman Jr., and Amon-Ra St. Brown are a quarterback’s best friend and are enough alone to keep this offense not only afloat, but clicking on all cylinders.
Brandon Arconado of Washington State went for 109 yards and a touchdown last week against Colorado, and Jaylon Redd of Oregon went for 75 yards and a touchdown the week prior. There is no reason why the Slick Three shouldn’t put up great stats against this Buffaloes secondary.
There seems to be a rotation each week on which receiver leads the pack and this week I expect St. Brown to have a monster game. I mentioned Colorado’s love for the screen game with Shenault, well Harrell should fall in love himself and get St. Brown involved early and often with some quick screens and bubble passes.
The Slick Three will have a superb night, and if Slovis trusts his guys, get’s though his progressions, and hits the throws he needs to hit, he should notch his first road-win of his career.
In the great Kevin Costner film Dances With Wolves, we learned of the term Tatonka, meaning Buffalo.
This Friday night, Tatonka will be Dancing with the Trojans. If all goes how it should, USC should have no problem taming these beautiful creatures, and moving to 14-0 all-time against Colorado.