Los Angeles, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - In the national polls once again, No. 22 USC will try to stay there as the Trojans take on the Colorado Buffaloes in a Pac-12 Conference skirmish at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Colorado is not fighting to remain in the national conversation so much as attempting to remain relevant in the Pac-12. The Buffaloes are just 2-4 overall, following a 36-31 home loss against Oregon State on Oct. 4. They have been off since that setback, which was their third in as many tries against teams from the conference.
"I do know that our team fights and believes that they can win. I think that we've come a long way, but we just have to punch through and get some wins," Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre said of his team. "They're doing everything that we ask and I'm really proud of them. They deserve some wins and have earned the right to get them."
USC has earned its way to a few more victories, sporting a 4-2 overall mark and a 3-1 ledger against the rest of the league. The Trojans greatly enhanced their league title chances last weekend, topping undefeated Arizona, 28-26, in Tucson.
"It was a heck of a fight," USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said, while stressing that things won't get any easier. "The key for us as a football team moving forward is to know this is going to be our games for awhile. We are going to have to play 60 minutes and expect to play 60 minutes every time we take the field."
The Trojans have absolutely dominated Colorado in the all-time series, posting wins in all eight meetings. They have outscored the Buffaloes 277-76 in those contests, including a 47-29 decision last season.
Colorado has made meager improvements on offense this season, after ranking near the bottom of the conference last season. The Buffaloes are producing a healthy 476.7 yards per game, but they still rank 10th in the league in scoring (31.7 ppg).
Sefo Liufau's development as a passer has really helped in improving Colorado's overall offensive production. Liufau has thrown for 1,887 yards and 19 touchdowns on 65.3 percent passing, although he has been picked off seven times. Clearly he has become more comfortable in the offense, especially considering he threw for only 1,779 yards all of last season,
Of course, any quarterback would be putting up better numbers if they got to throw to Nelson Spruce, who has been one of the best receivers in the country this season. Spruce leads the nation in receptions (62) and is tied with Colorado State's Rashard Higgins for the most touchdown catches (10). Spruce is second in the Pac-12 in receiving yards (732), as well. Shay Fields (33 receptions, 257 yards, two TDs) is the team's second option.
As far as running the ball goes, Colorado relies on a group of rushers, led by Christian Powell (274 yards, TD). Tony Jones (193 yards, two TDs) and Michael Adkins II (156 yards, TD) have gotten chances as well.
Leading tackler Addison Gillam (52 tackles, 2.5 sacks) is listed as doubtful for this contest due to a concussion. That isn't the best news for a team ranked next-to-last in the conference in scoring defense (35.7 ppg). However, the Buffs are right in the middle in terms of total defense (419 ypg).
Priority No. 1 for Colorado this week will be shutting down Javorius Allen. The USC running back rumbled his way to 205 yards and three touchdowns in the Trojans' win over Arizona. He has been an absolute workhorse for USC this season, leading the Pac-12 in carries (135), rushing yards (781), while being tied with Oregon's Royce Freeman for the most rushing touchdowns (seven).
With Allen paving the way, the Trojans have produced healthy numbers on offense, producing 32.2 points and 451.2 total yards per game.
Cody Kessler handles the quarterbacking duties for the squad, doing so rather efficiently. Kessler has completed 69.1 percent of his pass attempts for 1,565 yards and 11 touchdowns. Even more importantly, he has only been intercepted once on 207 pass attempts.
Nelson Agholor is the primary target, having logged 42 receptions for 405 yards and four touchdowns. Agholor was extremely important in the win over Arizona, finishing with team-highs of seven receptions and 81 yards to go with a score. Allen (23 receptions, 278 yards, TD) is also a key piece in the passing game, as is JuJu Smith (22 receptions, 246 yards).
As a defensive unit, the Trojans are fairly solid. USC ranks fifth in the league in total defense (405 ypg) and fourth in points allowed (22.3 ppg). Hayes Pullard (44) and Gerald Brown (43) are the leading tacklers, but Leonard Williams (4.0 sacks) and Su'a Cravens (9.5 TFL) are the real game-changers.