The Trojan football team has a chance to get back to .500 on the season when they face the No. 21 Colorado Buffaloes at the Coliseum Saturday. Last week, the Trojans defeated unranked ASU 41-21 while the Buffs were on their way to a 47-6 smack down of Oregon State.
Colorado is in an unusual position, leading the division for the first time since 2007 when they were still a member of the Big 12 conference. Last week’s victory was their largest margin of victory in 24 years and they are off to their best start since 2005, the same year they had their last national ranking.
USC is 10-0 in meetings against Colorado, but this year’s Buffalo team is one of the most experienced the Trojans have had to face. Head coach Clay Helton said he was very impressed with the Colorado team as a whole as they have grown from last season.
“We saw them last year, game after game, losing close games,” Helton said. “We walked away from our game saying, ‘Wow. When they mature, they are really going to have something here,’ and lo and behold it’s a year later and they’re doing wonderful things.”
Colorado has a balanced and talented offense, ranking third in the Pac-12 in both passing and rushing. Though the Buffs haven’t announced a quarterback for this game, both have been performing at a high level.
Senior quarterback Sefo Liufau started the first three games of the season before injuring his ankle. In that time he put up 768 yards and six touchdowns. Replacing him for the last two starts has been freshman quarterback Steven Montez. Montez immediately impressed after throwing for 743 yards, eight passing touchdowns and one rushing.
“Both QB’s play the same way,” junior defensive back Jonathan Lockett said. “Same body type and same style of running.”
Helton said that because of the similarities between the two possible starters, the defense has prepared only one defensive game plan.
“I went back and watched film and figured out how they put this many points on Michigan, how they put this many points on Oregon, on Oregon State, and they’re really improved from the past two years,” graduate transfer defensive end Stevie Tu’ikolovatu said. “I’m impressed.”
The Buffs also boast the top-ranked defense in the conference and are returning nine starters. Colorado is especially known for their tough front seven, which could provide problems for a Trojan run game that has stuttered at times.
However, senior running back Justin Davis is coming off of his second straight 100-yard game. Davis credited the offensive line for contributing to his success.
“They’ve just been working their butts off all week and stuff’s starting to click,” Davis said. “We always have room for improvement. We can’t stop there because we’ve still got some very hard teams ahead of us.”
On the offensive line though, the praise has been for offensive line coach Neil Callaway.
“Give it up to coach Callaway,” redshirt junior center Nico Falah said. “They’re a really good defensive front. Coach Callaway’s doing his best to get us ready for their schemes, their defensive line games and everything.”
The offensive line will most likely be without senior captain and right tackle Zach Banner who is listed as doubtful with an ankle injury. The team will also probably be without redshirt freshman safety Ykili Ross, who has a shoulder injury and is listed as doubtful according to Helton. Redshirt senior Jabari Ruffin, who is recovering from a concussion, is 50-50.
The matchup between USC and Colorado begins at 1 p.m. at the Coliseum and is being televised nationally on Pac-12 Network.