Football looks forward to potential Pac-12 clincher

Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Christian Rector (right) is set to come back from a hand injury in Colorado this week. Photo by Austin Paik | Daily Trojan

The football team is coming off a 49-35 victory over Arizona last week that put USC in the driver’s seat for the Pac-12 South. The Trojans took to the practice field Wednesday preparing for their final road game of the season against Colorado in Boulder.

Eyes on Colorado

The focus of Wednesday’s practice was on rushing the passer. Head coach Clay Helton cited pressure as a key part of the Trojans’ victory over the Buffaloes last year, and he said it would be the same in this matchup against returning quarterback Steven Montez.

“Watching tape, when [Montez] is able to sit back in the pocket, he’s deadly,” Helton said. “They’re averaging 260 yards passing per game, and when it’s a nice day for him, he has all the arm strength in the world to deliver the ball wherever he wants to.”

The Buffalo offense is led by Montez and running back Phillip Lindsay. Lindsay has run for 1,334 yards and 12 touchdowns on 5.1 yards per attempt. Montez has thrown for 2,404 yards and 16 touchdowns this season on 62.3 completion percentage and eight yards per attempt. The Buffaloes spread the ball evenly through the air as well, as three different receivers have at least 38 catches for 468 yards.

“We’ve got to make sure we stop the run and get off on third downs,” redshirt sophomore linebacker John Houston Jr. said when asked about the keys to the game against Colorado. “Trying to get turnovers [and] sacks — anything possible. He’s a good quarterback, so we have to stop him for sure.”

On the other side of the ball, the offense prepared for Colorado’s third-down blitz packages.

“We’re just trying to keep [the ball] away from an offense that’s averaging over 400 yards per game right now,” Helton said.

Colorado is vulnerable on defense: The Buffaloes rank 103rd in the country with 439 total yards allowed per game. Last week, they allowed 583 yards and 41 points to Arizona State, which the Trojans held to 357 yards and 17 points the week before.

Motivated Buffaloes

Though Colorado has disappointed this season, sitting at the bottom of the Pac-12 South, Helton made it clear that it is not to be taken lightly.

“It’s senior day there — a blackout game — and they’re fighting for bowl eligibility,” Helton said. “I bet you they’d love to do it against the Trojans. We’re going to get their best effort.”

Helton also believes Colorado’s record is misleading.

“If you go back and really study who they are, you’re talking about heartbreaking losses versus Arizona and UCLA,” Helton said. “They’re ahead for 48 minutes against Arizona State. They’re playing really good football, and they could be coming in here with eight victories if it weren’t for four or five plays per game. They’ve just played really tight games in this Pac-12.”

Injury Update

Helton said that there were no changes from the previous day’s injury report but did note that he was hoping to get a few players back and would be cleared by tomorrow.

“We’ll see where [senior linebacker] Uchenna [Nwosu] is tomorrow,” Helton said. “I know his ankle is feeling a lot better.”

Nwosu was held out of practice Wednesday due to an injury.

In addition, Helton was happy with freshman tight end Josh Falo’s practice. Falo returned to the field Tuesday for the first time since going down with a foot injury last month, and Helton said his return could help the team this coming week.

Helton also said redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Christian Rector was moving extremely well Wednesday. Helton said that Rector was listed as “day-to-day” and could possibly play this week. Rector has been out since injuring his hand in practice on Oct. 25.