Preview: USC at Colorado

Folsom Field

Boulder, CO
Friday, November 4, 2011

The inaugural Pac 12 season has been a miserable one for the rebuilding Buffaloes. Colorado has recorded just a single victory through nine games, which includes an 0-5 start in its new conference. It enters Friday night’s prime time affair riding a 6-game losing streak.

Colorado Buffaloes (1-8)
National Rank: none
Last Week: Lost to Arizona State 48-14


Category Avg rank
Rush  90.00  114
Pass  245.11  48
Pass Efficiency  124.73  76
Scoring  18.78  111
Total offense  335.11  98

USC faced an offense last week that ranked near the top in all offensive categories, and what it will find in Colorado is the antithesis to Stanford. A quick glimpse at the passing numbers project an illusion of a unit that does fairly well. But reality speaks different words, exposing an offense often playing from behind and padding stats in a game of catch-up.

Tyler Hansen is the leader of that offense, completing only 56 percent of passes, while throwing for 14 touchdowns and 6 interceptions this year.  His struggles begin up front, where an offensive line has surrendered 28 sacks through 9 games for a national rank of 107th in protection.

Of all teams in automatic qualifying conferences, only Louisville (17) has had fewer red zone opportunities than Colorado (22). Lack of movement coupled with the inability to limit opponent scoring results in a team trailing by several scores and abandoning the run game.

Rodney Stewart has led the Buffaloes in rushing for the past two seasons, and returns to the lineup on Friday, after a knee injury forced him to miss the last two games. At an average of 4.2 yards per carry, Stewart has rushed for just 473 yards and a single touchdown this season.  The senior has eclipsed the 100-yard mark just once, in the 4-point loss to Washington State, while receiving a season high 26 carries.

Stewart also ranks 9th in the nation in all-purpose yards, making spotted appearances in the passing game, as well as special teams.


Category Avg rank
Rush  185.67  85
Pass  248.89  92
Pass Efficiency  155.64  113
Scoring  38.33 117
Total defense  434.56 100

Darragh O’Neill may be Colorado’s best defensive player, which isn’t saying much, when you consider that he’s a punter. The freshman has a national rank of 29th, punting for an average of 42.93 yards per attempt.  His Buffaloes are currently tied with Louisiana Tech (57) for 4th-most punts in the FBS, which is also the most of any BCS conference program.

But punting is just one method of buying time, with Colorado fielding a defense that can’t stop the run, is just as bad against the pass, and allowing opponents an average of 33 points per game.  If there is a bright spot, it would be the unit’s ability to pressure passers, registering 21 sacks this season, with sophomore Chidera Uzo-Diribe leading the charge.

USC Trojans (6-2)
National rank: 21 (AP)
Last week: Lost to Stanford 56-48


Category Avg rank
Rush 146.00 74
Pass 286.50 24
Pass Efficiency 151.32 19
Scoring 32.38 38
Total offense 432.50 36

The Trojans had plenty of misfires against Stanford, which factored into the end result. Be it miscommunication or simply bad reads by Matt Barkley, the sputtering unit  missed on opportunities to change the game, and I’m sure it clouded their thoughts in the days that followed.

No player could have been more haunted by the misfortune of Saturday than Curtis McNeal. After having a breakout game through the first sixty minutes, it was his game-ending fumble that would seal USC’s fate in the third overtime. McNeil will now receive the start in Boulder, with the ailing Marc Tyler receiving just one carry last week and scratched for Friday’s contest.

Also looking to make good on last week’s performance is Matt Barkley. For the first time this season, the quarterback and Robert Woods failed in chemistry, often confused and on separate pages of the playbook. Robert Woods sat out practices a week ago, and the result was clearly visible on the field.

The Trojan offensive line stood tall to last week’s challenge, putting together one of the best performances to date. It sprang the running attack for a season high 148 yards, and kept its quarterback off the turf. You should expect to see a steady rotation of big bodies along the front, to counter the effects of altitude.


Category Avg rank
Rush 103.00 16
Pass 273.25 102
Pass Efficiency  130.98 69
Scoring  26.75 64
Total defense  376.25 54

Defensive numbers were inflated by overtime sessions and Stanford’s 56 point performance. And what we find deflated by last weekend’s thriller is the Trojan defensive unit, which will be playing the first thirty minutes without All-American candidate T.J. McDonald. The safety was suspended by the Pac 12 for the first half of Friday’s game, as punishment for an illegal hit on Stanford’s Chris Owusu. USC’s leading tackler, Dion Bailey, also remains questionable, after suffering a concussion last week.

Analysis: This is a classic case of David versus Goliath, with Colorado hoping to cast a stone to floor a giant. Its a program that lacks the athletes to compete with the depth of talent possessed by USC. But the Buffs, through experience, also know it’s a mission that is not impossible, after trapping and defeating a superior Georgia team in Boulder last year.

X-factor, The mindset: Coach Embree will have no trouble lifting his team for this game.  A visit by one of the biggest names in college football provides an automatic boost for a program that would love to stop the bleeding in style.  But it’s different on the other side of the coin, with USC coming off an emotional loss against Stanford and now trying to shift focus to the worst team in conference. A lackadaisical approach by the Trojans could turn a blowout into a ballgame.

All Time Series: USC leads 5-0
Streak: USC has won 5
Last Meeting: USC 40, Colorado 3 (Boulder, 2002)

Fun Facts

  • In five Pac 12 games, Colorado has allowed an average of 44.8 points, and 523.8 yards, losing those five by an average score of 45-13.
  • In five Pac 12 games, quarterbacks have combined to throw for 2,240 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions against the Colorado defense.
  • Colorado is trying to avoid 7 consecutive losses, which last occurred in 1980.
  • Colorado has lost 7 consecutive games to ranked opponents.
  • Colorado and USC will be playing in the first ever Friday night game at Folsom Field.
  • USC last played a game in the snow on Nov. 30, 1957, losing 40-12 to Notre Dame in South Bend .
  • Folsom Field is the third highest elevation (5,360 feet) in college football, trailing only Wyoming and Air Force.

~ by Anthony on November 3, 2011.

3 Responses to “Preview: USC at Colorado”

  1. […] Home › NCAA Football › Preview: USC at Colorado […]

  2. Is Curtis McNeil the son of former Trojan, Rodney McNeil?

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