Sure, USC is 8-1. And after a rather hectic college football Saturday last weekend, the Trojans are in a pretty good position to grab a spot in the College Football Playoff if they win out.
Yet, there’s a sense of dissatisfaction among the team after another closer-than-it-should’ve-been victory against Cal last week. In the postgame interview room last Saturday, every single player and coach noted some frustration with the team’s play, particularly on the USC defensive side of the ball.
It’s a different kind of frustration than was seen throughout last season’s 4-8 campaign. This year, the team knows it is close to playing like a serious CFP contender. But USC just can’t quite put out a full 60 minutes of playing like a top-4 team in the country.
Luckily, on Friday night, USC gets to face Colorado, a team that can make just about any opponent look elite in comparison. The Buffaloes are 1-8 overall and 1-5 in Pac-12 play, and they’ve lost seven games by at least three scores. They’ve also scored 34 points once against Arizona State, but haven’t eclipsed 20 otherwise.
If there’s a game for the USC defense to get right and put out a promising performance, it’s this one. Colorado’s offense ranks in the bottom 15 in the nation in points per game, yards per game, yards per play, and turnovers committed. In other words, there shouldn’t be much of an excuse for Alex Grinch’s defense to hold the Buffaloes under 20 points, at most. After all, if last year’s USC defense could hold Colorado to 14 points, surely this unit could pitch something close to a shutout.
Grinch will definitely welcome the return of linebackers Ralen Goforth — and possibly Eric Gentry, who will be a game-time decision — on this short week. The Trojans’ run defense was actually pretty good against Cal last week, though it still ranks as one of the worst in the nation. Colorado is more effective on the ground, with running back Deion Smith leading the charge in the backfield, but that’s also because the Buffaloes’ quarterbacks have been flat-out terrible.
Tennessee transfer JT Shrout currently holds the starting job, and he has not been good. Here’s his season stat line: 44.5% completion rate, six yards per attempt, six touchdowns, and six interceptions. Not great.
Freshman receiver Jordyn Tyson has actually been fairly impressive for Colorado, with 22 catches for 470 yards and four touchdowns, all team highs. He will be the main threat that USC should be wary of in the Buffaloes’ offense. Colorado’s offensive line has been decent as well, with middle-of-the-pack success rates running the ball and stopping opposing pass rushes.
Still, the Trojans’ shouldn’t have a difficult time forcing Shrout into some mistakes and keeping him from establishing a rhythm. Again, this couldn’t be a better bounce-back spot for USC after surrendering 400 yards through the air to Cal quarterback Jack Plummer.
On the other side, Colorado’s defense is even worse than its offense. The Buffaloes have given up 38 points in all but one game — against Cal, ironically. Like the offense, Colorado’s defense again ranks in the bottom 15 in the country in the same four stats: points per game allowed, yards per game allowed, yards per play allowed, and turnovers forced.
There really isn’t much analysis needed here, to be honest. Caleb Williams should be able to dice through this Buffaloes defense in his sleep, and Lincoln Riley should have the chance to lean on his run game throughout the second half. Just look at the graphic below, particularly the Colorado defense versus USC offense section in the bottom middle. That’s a lot of blue (good) against a lot of red (bad).
The Trojans should continue to get healthier on the offensive side of the ball, too. Receiver Jordan Addison will return to action after missing a couple of weeks, and fellow wideout Mario Williams is a game-time decision.
This game has a 34.5-point spread for a reason, as USC shouldn’t have much of an issue putting up 50+ points Friday night. But this game matters a lot more for the Trojans’ defense, which needs to put out a complete, 60-minute performance that really hasn’t been seen all year. I really think USC wants to hold Colorado to two touchdowns or less, so the Buffaloes’ team total under 14.5 points could be a viable wager for any bettors. The Trojans need to dominate this game to regain some confidence, and I believe we will see just that.