The Colorado Buffaloes football team fell to the USC Trojans 35-31 on Friday night in Boulder. A lackadaisical performance in the fourth quarter allowed the Trojans to take the lead late and ultimately secure the victory.
Colorado’s defense put up little resistance on USC’s first possession. A 37-yard TD rush from sophomore wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown capped a three-play 75-yard scoring drive to put the Trojans up 7-0 less than a minute into the game. The Buffs responded with a balanced drive that stalled in the red zone and ended with a 22-yard field goal from junior kicker James Stefanou.
Freshman cornerback K.J. Trujillo intercepted USC freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis at the Buffs’ 38-yard line on the Trojans second possession. On the ensuing drive, an 18-yard back shoulder pass from redshirt senior quarterback Steven Montez to senior wide receiver Tony Brown gave the Buffs the ball at the USC two. Junior wide receiver K.D. Nixon capped the Buffs’ second offensive possession with a 7-yard TD reception. Colorado led 10-7. Montez and sophomore running back Alex Fontenot provided an offensive spark with their legs, rushing for 28 and 31 yards respectively through the first quarter.
A sack from Trujillo forced a quick USC three-and-out. The freshman from Buena Park, California stepped up for the Buffs in the first half. Colorado needed someone to provide a spark in the secondary with junior Mekhi Blackmon out for the season due to shoulder surgery and the overall lack of depth in the secondary. Trujillo talked about the impact the defense had early.
“In the first half we executed really well,” Trujillo said. “We had a lot of three-and-outs, turnover, just a lot of big plays all around. Our d-line and linebackers were putting a lot of pressure on the quarterback allowing the secondary to execute our jobs and make it easier for us.”
The Buffs’ running back duo, Fontenot and freshman Jaren Mangham, got a steady dose of work during Colorado’s first four offensive possessions. In addition, Montez’s effectiveness rushing gave the Colorado offense balance in the first half.
A pair of receptions from junior wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. put the Buffs in scoring position with just over seven minutes left in the second quarter. Nixon put Colorado up 17-7 a few plays later with another 7-yard TD reception (his second of the game). Senior wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and St. Brown provided the response for the Trojans. USC drove down into the red zone. Slovis connected with freshman tailback Kenan Christon for a walk-in touchdown to cut the Buffs’ lead to three (17-14) with just under three minutes left in the first half. Penalties on both sides of the ball for Colorado stalled offensive drives and extended USC possessions through the first two quarters. The Buffs clung to a three point lead at the half.
Shenault Jr. took a 71-yard slant pass to the house to open up the third quarter on the second play of the drive for the Buffs. Colorado extended their lead to ten. The Trojans responded when Slovis connected with redshirt junior wide receiver Tyler Vaugns for a 21-yard touchdown early in the third quarter. Colorado led 24-21.
Shenault Jr. rushed for 17 yards on fourth and two from inside USC territory to keep the Buffs’ second posssession of the third quarter alive. Montez mentioned that early in the game the Trojans were playing man-to-man with Shenault Jr., something the Buffs took advantage of in the first half.
“There were playing a lot of man coverage on him, anybody that knows anything about Laviska, man coverage is not for Laviska because he will tear you apart,” Montez said.
Montez capped a eight play 66-yard drive with a 17-yard TD rush to push the lead to ten. In addition to 45 rushing yards, Montez threw for over 300 yards and 3 TDs. His ability to not only run, but extend passing plays with his legs provided the Colorado offense with a much needed lift. Head coach Mel Tucker talked about Montez’s bounce-back performance following two tough losses on the road.
“It’s not the first time he has played like that this year,” Tucker said. “He has played a lot of good football for us. We had a tough stretch but, like I’ve said before, I feel like he is a good player. We have to help to play better around him. He had to make some better decisions. I have a lot of confidence in him. He works really hard. It’s important to him and he cares. He’s becoming a leader for us. I have a lot of respect for Steven for the way he’s hung in there and handled himself.”
Slovis continued to take advantage of the Buffs’ inexperience in the secondary, using the whole field to drive the football down into the red zone on the Trojans second possession of the third quarter. Freshman safety Mark Perry recorded a tackle-for-loss on a third down to push USC just outside the red zone. The Trojans missed a 40-yard field goal on the ensuing play.
Penalties continued to plague the Buffaloes in the second half, providing the Trojans with free yardage extending their offensive drives and killing the Buffs offensive momentum. Tucker said that it’s tough to win games when a team commits that many penalties.
“But you know when you have 13 penalties for 100 yards, it’s just really hard to win like that,” Tucker said. “I mean every 100 yards is a touchdown. When we don’t turn the ball over and we get takeaways then we always have a chance to win and that was the case. But, we just have to be more disciplined. We got to have less penalties and we got to do our jobs a lot better.”
Colorado held a 31-28 lead with just over eight minutes left in regulation. Montez completed a 19-yard pass to Brown on third and eight to extend the Buffs’ drive. But, Colorado was unable to convert on third and four from just inside USC territory. The Buffs stayed with the air attack for most of the fourth quarter, something some people questioned after the game. When asked about if he should’ve stuck with the ground game late, Tucker said, no.
“I don’t look it like that,” Tucker said. “I thought we called a good game and we were aggressive and they were having a really hard time covering our guys. We took our shots.”
Pittman capped a four minute 90-yard drive for the Trojans with a 37-yard TD reception to give USC a 35-31 lead with 2:15 left in the game. Fontenot came up short on fourth down for the Buffs on the ensuing drive. The Trojans came away with a 35-31 road victory.
Both Tucker and Montez said after the game that, despite the loss, there some things the Buffs did well on both sides of the ball.
“We ran the ball on our terms and we were able to be efficient throwing the football,” Tucker said. “We finished in the red zone, didn’t turn the ball over. So, there were some positives there.”
Montez added that he doesn’t like the idea of a “moral victory.” He said Colorado needed to do a bit more to finish the game and come out on top.
“I mean yeah I’m not real big into moral victories.” Montez said. “I think we did some positive things, some things that we can definitely build on in the future, but just got to do a little bit more and get it done, just plain and simple that’s what it is. (We) got to do a little bit more and get it done.”
Colorado will travel to Los Angeles to play the UCLA Bruins next Saturday Nov. 2. The game time and TV coverage is still TBD.