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O/NSO: Colorado edition

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

The Obvious: Coming off their impressive 41-20 victory over Arizona State last weekend in the Coliseum, the unranked USC Trojans (2-3, 1-2 Pac-12 South) will try and prove that last weekend’s demolition of the Sun Devils was no fluke, as the Cardinal and Gold host the surprising No. 21 and Pac-12 South Division leader Colorado Buffaloes (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12 South) on Saturday afternoon (1 p.m. PT) in the Coliseum as part of Trojans Family Weekend.

The Not So Obvious: In the face of adversity, it’s amazing what one Pac-12 victory will do team a wobbly team’s confidence. Thanks to a reborn USC offense, the Trojans are guided by precocious redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold (photo above), who has emerged as the type of quarterback the Trojans haven’t seen in quite a while. Standing in their way is upstart and nationally ranked Colorado, which has been one of the conference’s doormats in the since its arrival. The 2016 Buffaloes are off to their best start (4-1) since 2005 and its first 2-0 conference start since 2007. This is what makes Saturday’s game so intriguing, but the Trojans should get some extra support with Trojans Family Weekend, which brings out a large number families of students that attend Troy.   

The Obvious: The Trojans opened a 4-point favorite over Colorado.

The Not So Obvious: For the record, Colorado is ranked 21st in the AP and 23rd in the USA Today polls, respectively. Apparently the folks in Las Vegas aren’t quite ready to say the Buffs will take down the Trojans, and by the same token, Sin City isn’t quite ready to ignore last week’s Trojans dominating win over previously undefeated Arizona State. The Trojans have won all 10 of its meetings with Colorado, including going 5-0 in Los Angeles battles, and have outscored the Buffaloes in those 10 contests by a points margin of 360-128. Last season on a chilly (temperatures in the mid-30s) night in Boulder, the Trojans overcame a 14-point deficit, using three second half touchdown passes by Cody Kessler and a pair of major plays by DT Delvon Simmons to hold on for a 27-24 win.

The Obvious: The Trojans/Colorado game will be nationally televised live on the Pac-12 Networks (1:00 p.m. PT).

The Not So Obvious: The Pac-12 Network broadcasters for Saturday afternoon’s kickoff will be Roxy Bernstein (play-by-play), Anthony Herron (analysis), and Louis Johnson (sidelines).

The Obvious: Saturday’s Trojans radio game broadcast of the USC/CU game will air live on ESPNLA 710 AM at 1:00 p.m. (PDT) with Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline).

The Trojans four-hour ESPNLA 710 pregame (9:00 a.m. PT) and two-hour post-game show on Saturday will feature Arbogast, Jackson, Moore, Shaun Cody, Chris Fisher, Travis Rodgers, WeAreSC publisher Garry Paskwietz, and WeAreSC contributor Jeremy Hogue.

The Not So Obvious: The Colorado broadcast can be heard on flagship station KOA 850 AM with Mark Johnson (play-by-play), Larry Zimmer (analyst), and Chad Brown (sideline). The game can also be heard on ESPN radio with Bill Rosinski (play-by-play), David Norrie (analyst), and Ian Fitzsimmons (sidelines). The Pac-12 game can also be heard on Sirius XM satellite radio (channel 81) or on the Tuneln Radio app.

The Obvious: The Los Angeles weather on Saturday calls for sunny with a high of 89, humidity at 22 percent, and a low of 62 degrees.

The Not So Obvious: We’ll see whether the Trojans can keep it going or whether they’ll fall back into their previous, inconsistent patterns. It figures with Sam Darnold at quarterback and playing at home, the Trojans offense should be potent, as long as there are no costly turnovers. However, beware that this Colorado team is for real, as Buffaloes head coach Mike MacIntyre’s program appears to have turned the corner.

Offensively, the Trojans will challenge Colorado with their newly productive three-headed monster in redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold, senior tailback Justin Davis, and junior All-Pac-12 wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. We’ll see whether Colorado’s seasoned and veteran defense has an answer for the Trojans trio and whether Darnold can remain unflappable against the Buff’s various blitzes and harassments. Darnold will have to weary of Buffs CB Chidobe Awuzie, who has seven career interceptions. We’ll also see whether Darnold’s brilliance and improvisational skills can make the Trojans offense look like a continuing improving unit, which it surely looked against ASU. Be aware that CU’s defense is ninth nationally in pass defense (150.4, first in Pac-12) and 13th in total defense (290.4, first in Pac-12). It remains to be seen whether the probable absence of All-Pac-12 right tackle Zach Banner will have a big effect against a Colorado’s veteran defense.

Defensively, the Trojans will face a Colorado offense that has shown that it can score against the best of them, including Michigan in The Big House in Ann Arbor. Whether the Trojans defense can stop the CU offense is in question. The Buffaloes offense is ninth nationally in total offense (531.2, third in Pac-12), 16th in scoring offense (43.2, third in Pac-12) and 19th in passing offense (312.6, third in Pac-12).

Whether the Trojans can contain the arm of the Buff’s redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Montez (6-5, 225/El Paso, Texas), who took over for injured QB Sefo Liufau in the Michigan game, will be a real challenge. Montez has been as dynamic throwing and running as Liufau (Montez is 10th in the country in passing efficiency, while Liufau is CU’s career leader in completions, passing yards and total offense). Rumor has it that Liufau is ready to reclaim his starting QB position, so might the Trojans might just see two quarterbacks on Saturday? There is legitimate concern regarding the Trojans secondary and whether they can withstand the deep ball threat of explosive Buff receivers Devin Ross and Shay Fields.

Trojans special team play has been outstanding, and we’ll see whether Colorado can distract or disrupt Trojans junior placekicker Matt Boermeester, who has been dynamite on touchback kickoffs and long and short field goals. Matt has become a major Trojans weapon.

The bottom line to Saturday’s game is whether the Trojans understand the message that every team is capable of beating them, but they, too, are capable of beating every team left on their schedule if they play to their ability and the coaches coach to their ability. Saturday should provide a good indication which Trojans team we’ll be seeing from here on out.

The Obvious: Trojans first-year head coach is Clay Helton, who turned down the heat on himself and his program last week with the impressive home win against Arizona State.

The Not So Obvious: The Colorado head coach is Mike MacIntyre, who is in his fourth season at CU and began this season with a three-year record of 10-27, is aware that the Trojans can still pack a punch despite their rough September. As it pertains to his anxiety in facing USC, MacIntyre said, “That’s why I’m not sleeping. Very, very talented. Playmakers all over the offensive field. They’ve basically completely changed their offense in the last game and half. They did it in the Utah game, but this last game was almost like a complete different offense. The quarterback (Sam Darnold) is an excellent athlete. He’s getting the ball out of his hands to their playmakers. They’re basically a spread football team now, in a way, with a phenomenal, athletic tight end.”

Asked why the Trojans struggled early, MacIntyre said, “No. 1, they played Alabama. Alabama might win a pro game or two, they’re so talented. They (the Trojans) are a really good football team. They’re very talented. They’ve settled in with an offensive identity. They were very, very impressive Saturday night.”

The Obvious: The 2016  Trojans offense is averaging 25.8 points per game while the Colorado defense is allowing 24.3 points per outing.

The Not So Obvious: The 2016 Colorado offense is averaging 42.3 points per game while the Trojans defense is allowing 27.4 points per game.

The Obvious: Tee Martin is the Trojans first-year offensive coordinator.

The Not So Obvious: When asked about the impact of Sam Darnold at quarterback, Tee said, “We have added some things, and there are some things that may get called with him because of his skillset. He does some things really well; one being his accuracy and his ability to get the ball out accurately. I think that’s his biggest, greatest trait. But his mind, he’s a quick thinker and he makes fast decisions. He makes decisions that he lives with and he doesn’t second-guess himself. And then he can create with his legs, so we don’t call out a quarterback run so to speak. But there are some options for him at times, and he’s doing a good job of reading them and making good decisions.”

The Obvious: No doubt, having Sam Darnold at quarterback makes an offensive coordinator look pretty good.

The Not So Obvious: The O/NSO asked Tee Martin how exciting is it to call a play and then watch Darnold execute the play? Martin said, “Oh, man, he’s exciting to watch. You call plays and I’ve said this in the past, players make plays come alive schematically or on paper and it adds up. You call a hitch and JuJu (Smith-Schuster) goes 67 yards; he (Darnold) makes it happen. We run a ‘flea flicker’ and it’s not blocked or run great and he improvises and it’s another ‘explosion play’ and he makes it come alive. It’s fun to watch him play, fun to watch him create, and fun to watch him take his game to the next level. He’s the type of quarterback that manages, what I call, the ‘Oh crap’ moments.”

The Obvious: During each Trojans home game, there is usually recognition of athletes, contributors, and/or donors.

The Not So Obvious: On Saturday, it’s both Joint Forces Day at the Coliseum and Trojan Family Weekend. There will be a ceremony to recognize Troy’s 2016 first-ever Women’s Capital One Cup, a prestigious annual all-sports competition that determines the best women’s and men’s Division I collegiate athletics programs. During the 2015-16 season, USC’s women won NCAA crowns in beach volleyball and water polo, and had NCAA Top 10 finishes in lacrosse, volleyball, golf, swimming, track and indoor track.

The Obvious: In its history, the Trojans have had only 11 players from the state of Colorado.

The Not So Obvious: Those Trojans from Colorado include four from Boulder’s Fairview High in CU’s backyard (ILB Joe Barry 1992-93, OT Tony Boselli – 1991-94, C Chris Foote – 1977-79 and FB-TB Scott Lockwood -1987-88 and 1990-91). Other Colorado Trojans include T Ward Bond (1928-30), FB Rory Brown (1990 and 1992-93), OG-C Jeff Byers (2004 and 2007-09), CB-S Brian Kelly (1994-97), WR Ryan Lenderman (1993-94), OG-OT Butch Lewis (2007-10) and TB LenDale White (2003-05).

The Obvious: The Trojans have no players from Colorado.

The Not So Obvious: Colorado has 43 players from the state of California.

The Obvious: And finally, there has been a lot said that the Trojans 1-3 start was the worst September since 2001 when the Trojans, under first-year head coach Pete Carroll, opened the season at 1-3.

The Not So Obvious: For the record, Pete Carroll’s Trojans opened the 2001 season with a victory over San Jose State and then proceeded to lose to Kansas State (10-6), Oregon (24-22), and Stanford (21-16). For good measure, they also lost their first game in October to Washington (27-24). As for Clay Helton’s September to forget, the Trojans opened with a loss to No. 1 Alabama (52-6), defeated Utah State (45-7), and then finished the opening month with losses at nationally ranked schools Stanford (27-10) and Utah (31-27). Unlike Carroll, Helton won his first game in October by hosting and defeating ASU 41-20. FYI, Carroll also defeated ASU in his first season, defeating the Sun Devils 48-17 in the second week of October.

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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