(23) USC (8-3) at Colorado (4-6)
Saturday, November 23, 9:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Riding the high off an upset of Stanford last weekend, the USC Trojans will try to avoid a letdown as they visit the Colorado Buffaloes in Pac-12 action at Folsom Field.
The Trojans have risen from the proverbial ashes this season. With a 20-17 victory over the then No. 5 Cardinal on Saturday the Trojans have now won four straight games and are in the national rankings, where they sit at No. 23. USC's turnaround is in no small way connected to the firing of Lane Kiffin at the end of September. Since then the Trojans have gone 5-1 under head coach Ed Orgeron, with the lone loss a 14-10 setback at Notre Dame. The Trojans are 8-3 overall and at 5-2 in league action are sitting just a game behind Arizona State for the Pac-12 South Division lead.
"I think Coach O is very unique. There's no one else in the country that's like him that I've seen," USC quarterback Cody Kessler said of his head coach. "We absolutely love him. We'd run through a brick wall for him. He has that look in his eye that you can tell that when he talks to you he really does care. I gave him a hug after the game and I don't know if he'd want me saying this but I saw his eyes water up. It's awesome when you play with someone who has that same passion."
Colorado isn't coming off nearly as impressive a win as the Trojans. Last weekend the Buffaloes hosted California in a battle of the final winless teams in conference play. Colorado finally got in the win column with a resounding, 41-24, victory over the Golden Bears. The win ended a three-game losing streak for the Buffaloes, who are clinging to hopes of bowl eligibility with two games to go. Colorado is 4-6 overall and would need an upset over USC and a win in Salt Lake City against Utah next week to get to the necessary six wins.
"I still think we can win some more; they're going to be real tough, against real good football teams. But, now there is a little bit more to play for," Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre said.
The Trojans have never lost to Colorado in seven previous meetings. Last year, Matt Barkley threw six touchdown passes and completed 19-of-20 passes to lead the Trojans to a 50-6 rout of the Buffaloes.
USC's turnaround hasn't really been built on its offense. The Trojans are a rather mediocre offensive team in comparison to the rest of the Pac-12 as they are scoring 28.2 points per game, while ranking ninth in the league in total offense (394.3 ypg).
Kessler has led the attack for the Trojans by being more of a game-manager than a game-changer. Kessler threw for 288 yards and a touchdown on 67.6 percent passing against Stanford for his fourth straight game with a completion percentage above 60 percent. On the year, Kessler has thrown for 2,265 yards and 13 scores, while completing nearly 65 percent of his pass attempts. Kessler has also made sure to keep his mistakes to a minimum with just six interceptions, only one of which has come in the last four games.
Nelson Agholor continued his reign as the go-to option for Kessler against Stanford, as he totaled 104 yards on eight receptions. Agholor has had only two 100-yard efforts this season but that is the most of any Trojan. In total Nelson is tied for the team lead in receptions (44), while amassing the most yards on the team (751). Marqise Lee has also brought in 44 passes this season for 604 yards and two scores. His numbers are far off the pace he set in winning the Biletnikoff Award during last year's campaign.
The Trojans really struggled to get much going on the ground against the stingy Stanford run defense on Saturday. USC had just 23 yards on 27 carries in the contest. Leading rusher Tre Madden (682 yards, three TDs) returned to the field after missing the previous week but had only 11 yards on six carries. Javorius Allen (431 yards, eight TDs) had back-to-back 100-yard efforts before his 26-yard outing against the Cardinal.
Where Orgeron has excelled has been on the defensive side of the ball. USC is second in the conference in total defense (338.8 ypg). USC gets great pressure and is second in the league in tackles for loss and third in sacks (30). Devon Kennard (8.0 sacks) leads the pass rush, while Su'a Cravens (43 tackles, four INTs) and Dion Bailey (52 tackles, four INTs) are tough to deal with in the secondary .,
Offense has been a real weakness for the Buffaloes this season as they rank last in the Pac-12 in total yards (380.6 ypg) and second to last in points scored (25.9 ppg).
However, the Buffaloes are fortunate enough to have one of the most lethal receiving threats in the country. Paul Richardson (71 receptions, 1,201 yards, nine TDs) is inching his way towards the all-time single season receiving record for the Buffaloes. Richardson has 41 catches of 10 or more yards and 17 of more than 20. The rest of the Buffaloes have 45 and 14, respectively, combined. Nelson Spruce (45 receptions, 532 yards, two TDs) has gotten the bulk of the work behind Richardson.
Sefu Liufau has gotten better and better each week under center. Against California the freshman signal caller threw for a career-high 364 yards on 23- of-36 passing while also managing three touchdowns passes and a single interception. Overall, Liufau has been consistent in completing passes, doing so at a 63.4 percent rate, but the production could still be improved. Liufau has totaled 1,350 yards and eight touchdowns to six interceptions in six games overall.
The tandem of Christian Powell (509 yards, three TDs) and Michael Adkins (434 yards, five TDs) have led the Buffaloes' ground game. Powell was the more effective back in terms of yardage against CAlifornia as he had 60 yards and a score on 18 carries. Adkins, as he has all season, was the more effective rusher as he averaged 4.3 yards per carry, though he had only nine attempts.
Colorado's offensive struggles have been paired with plenty of issues on the defensive side of the ball. The Buffaloes rank ahead of only California in both scoring (38.8 ypg) and total defense (477.9 ypg). Addison Gillam (99 tackles, 3.0 sacks) has enjoyed a strong freshman season for the unit, while Chidera Uzo-Diribe (4.0 sacks) gives the team at least one other strong pass rusher.
The Trojans have really bought into Orgeron's philosophy and the results have been obvious. Assuming they continue to play tight defense, the Trojans will be able to squeeze out enough from Kessler and company to keep their winning streak alive.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: USC 34, Colorado 13
11/20 10:47:38 ET