The Trojans are in Boulder this weekend to take on Colorado in their second Friday night game of the season.
USC (4-3, 3-1 in the Pac-12), although undefeated at home this season, has yet to win a road game. The Trojans have won the last 13 games in their series against Colorado (3-4, 1-3 in the Pac-12), and this game is another stepping stone on their quest for a Pac-12 title.
This season has been laden with injuries for the Trojans, testing the team’s depth. This week, USC will feel the absence of tailbacks redshirt freshman Markese Stepp and junior Stephen Carr. This comes after already losing redshirt junior Vavae Malepeai to knee surgery.
Following the injuries to USC’s three go-to backs, running backs coach Mike Jinks said the team’s mindset is “next man up.”
The running back void will be filled by freshman Kenan Christon, who lit up Arizona in his college debut Saturday with two touchdowns.
Despite their limited resources at running back, the Trojans will still make an effort to put the ball on the ground to support freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis, who struggled to move the ball in the early going against Arizona.
“I think it’s important for us to run the football because as a quarterback, it’s hard to be on every night,” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said. “At any position, it’s hard to be on every night. It’s just when you’re the quarterback everyone sees it a lot more … If you ever have a night where the quarterback is struggling a little bit, you can help him settle in and you can take some pressure off of him if you can run the football successfully.”
On defense, the Trojans will certainly feel the loss of freshman defensive lineman Drake Jackson, who leads the team in sacks, and sophomore safety Talanoa Hufanga, who is second on the team in solo tackles with 32.
“It’s going to take some time [to get them healthy],” head coach Clay Helton said. “We’re going to believe in the kids that are out here. Hopefully, we’ll get some back here soon.”
Although there’s been upheaval at quarterback, with Slovis, sophomore JT Daniels and redshirt junior Matt Fink all are taking significant snaps this season, Slovis looks to be “the guy” for the rest of the season, coming in at No. 7 in the country in completion percentage at 73.6%. Despite his strong showings thus far, Slovis said that being more consistent and staying disciplined are two of his focuses heading into Colorado.
Unlike USC, which just picked up a decisive win, Colorado enters this weekend coming off an ugly loss to Washington State. The Trojans have proven to be quite resilient this season, and despite losing plenty of familiar faces to injury, this game will likely follow tradition and not be the first time the program drops a game to the Buffaloes.
The Trojans are optimistic heading into this matchup against Colorado, despite having many crucial players sidelined. Slovis said spirits on the team are still high.
“From the beginning with JT going down, your starting quarterback gets hurt, you never want to see that,” he said. “Then to have your first three running backs go down, again you never want to see that happen. But you have to move up and have that ‘next man up’ mentality.”
Helton said the team is focused on making the most of its opportunity to earn a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game at the end of the season.
“As a coach, we’re not paid to make excuses,” he said. “We’re paid to find answers, and we’ll find those answers. We’ve got a huge opportunity that stands right there for us. We can write our own story right now.”