For the third time this season, No. 10 USC (5-1) will play a game in the friendly confines of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Trojans have been on the road for four of their first six contests, but will return home to play Colorado on Saturday.
After a pair of tough games at Utah and Washington, USC coach Lane Kiffin is happy to finally be home, knowing his team has a lot to work on.
“[The players] understand that this is all about us improving,” Kiffin said. “We have a lot of work to do. A lot of areas, whether it’s third down or penalties, a lot of things to work on.”
Kiffin alluded to the fact that the Trojan offense is converting just more than 30 percent of its third downs, a mark that Kiffin did not expect the team to be at with his cast of star players.
“I would never have guessed we’d be where we are on third downs right now,” Kiffin said.
This week’s contest against Colorado (1-5, 1-2) could be what USC needs to clean things up for the home stretch of the season. Colorado is yielding 41.3 points per game to opponents, good for 120th in the entire country. The Buffs have lost five of six games, including one contest to Sacramento State, a Football Championship Subdivision school. Rather than worry about the Buffs, the team is focused on playing better football overall.
“This week is all about us,” Kiffin said.
Senior quarterback Matt Barkley has not been throwing for the number of yards and touchdowns that many analysts expected and has already thrown six interceptions after throwing only seven last season. Junior wide receiver Robert Woods’ numbers are down significantly from last season and sophomore receiver Marqise Lee was held to just two catches last week. As a whole, the offense has not been dynamic, due in large part to penalties and other self-inflicted issues.
“We just haven’t made the plays when they’ve been there,” Kiffin said. “We’ve been on the road, missed some calls, missed some protections.”
While the stats for the passing game have fallen short of expectations, the Trojans’ running game has stepped up in recent weeks. Particularly, junior running back Silas Redd had 155 yards on the ground against the Huskies and looks to be the team’s featured back after a slow start to the season.
“I’m much more comfortable with my teammates and the coaches and the system and everything,” Redd said. “I feel a lot better.”
Practice was particularly intense over the last week. Despite the fact Colorado ranks among the worst teams in college football, Redd and his teammates say they are taking the game seriously.
“We’re coming out here and we’re acting like Colorado is Alabama,” Redd said. “We’re practicing hard … We’re not letting our foot off the gas.”
Though the offense has struggled recently, the defense has more than held up its end of the bargain. Particularly the defensive line, led by freshman defensive tackle Leonard Williams and junior defensive end Morgan Breslin, have surprised many after initially being thought of as the team’s weak link.
“I feel like we just took that as a challenge,” Williams said. “[Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron] talked about that all the time. The [defensive] line was just like, ‘We’re not about to be the weak point of this team,’ and we just came together and made a point that we weren’t going to be that.”
USC’s defense is giving up just 18.5 points per game, and held an explosive Washington team to just 14 points. Considering Colorado averages just 20.8 points per game, the defense appears poised to perform well. That doesn’t mean the defensive players aren’t looking to improve, however.
“To be honest with you, we’re not really worrying about Colorado,” junior cornerback Nickell Robey said. “We’re worrying about ourselves. We’re getting down to the crunch time of the season where we have to worry about ourselves.”
Considering that the Trojans play No. 3 Oregon in two weeks, Robey and the defense care more about getting better on the whole than about specific games.
“Whatever we got in store for that week, make sure we execute it,” Robey said of the defense’s game plan. “That’s just as far as rushing the quarterback, getting more hands on the ball when the ball is in the air, tackling. Just the fundamentals of the game. and as long as we get those things sharpened and keep working on them and coaches keep harping on those little things, it just makes the defense even greater.”
Saturday’s game against the Buffalos kicks off at 3 p.m. It will be shown nationally on the Pac-12 networks.
Nick Burton contributed to this report.