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Opponent Preview: Colorado

USC heads to Boulder for a Friday night clash with Colorado this week. The Trojans (4-3 overall, 3-1 Pac-12) can continue their run atop the Pac-12 South with a win against the Buffaloes (3-4, 1-3). USC has never lost to Colorado, as the Trojans are 13-0 against the Buffaloes.

Colorado offense vs USC defense

#12 Steven Montez (6-5, 230)

Running back
#8 Alex Fontenot (6-0, 195)

Wide receiver
#2 Laviska Shenault (6-2, 220)
#3 K.D. Nixon (5-8, 185)
#18 Tony Brown (6-1, 195)

Tight end
#38 Brady Russell (6-3, 255)

Offensive line
LT #51 Arlington Hambright (6-5, 300)
LG #58 Kary Kutsch (6-5, 310)
C #56 Tim Lynott (6-3, 300)
RG #70 Casey Roddick (6-4, 330)
RT #78 William Sherman (6-4, 310)

The Colorado offense has struggled in a big way over the last two weeks, as the Buffaloes scored just 13 total points in blowout road losses to Oregon and Washington State. There are some playmakers throughout, but this has been a fairly average offense this season. Colorado ranks 83rd in points per game (26.6 points), 65th in total offense (407.7 yards), 78th in rushing yards (154.4 yards) and 51st in passing offense (253.3 yards).

Wide receiver Laviska Shenault is the headliner for the Buffaloes and one of the most dynamic playmakers in the conference. He’s been limited a bit this season after suffering a core muscle injury earlier in the year. Colorado can and will use him all over the place — as a wide receiver, handing the ball off on jet sweeps or snapping it directly to him out of the wildcat formation. He took a direct snap 49 yards for a touchdown against USC last season. This year, he has 25 receptions for 342 yards and two touchdowns, and has rushed 12 times for 82 yards and two touchdowns. With Shenault banged up a bit, fellow receiver Tony Brown has stepped up in a big way. He leads the team with 37 receptions for 480 yards and four touchdowns, with 10 receptions for 20 yards or more.

Getting them the ball is quarterback Steven Montez, who possesses a huge arm and enough athleticism to be a threat in the run game, but hasn’t been able to put it all together for an extended period of time. He’s completing 64% of his passes this season for 1,723 yards and 10 touchdowns against eight interceptions. He’s rushed 28 times for just 35 yards. He’s also struggled in a big way the last two weeks, throwing for just 260 yards and six interceptions before being pulled from the game in the fourth quarter last week.

This is another big offensive line and Colorado has found some rhythm in the run game behind Alex Fontenot, who has 568 yards and four touchdowns this season and is coming off a 100-yard game against Washington State.

Colorado defense vs USC offense

Defensive line
DE #34 Mustafa Johnson (6-2, 290)
NT #99 Jalen Sami (6-6, 320)
DE #54 Terrance Lang (6-7, 280)

OLB #52 Alex Tchangam (6-3, 245)
ILB #53 Nate Landman (6-3, 230)
ILB #36 Akil Jones (6-0, 230)
OLB #26 Carson Wells (6-4, 250)

Defensive backs
NB #20 Davion Taylor (6-2, 225)
CB #1 Delrick Abrams Jr. (6-3, 185)
FS #2 Mikial Onu (5-11, 205)
SS #3 Derrion Rakestraw (6-2, 200)
CB #17 K.J. Trujillo (6-0, 165)

Colorado’s defensive production looks very similar to the one USC faced last week against Arizona. The Buffaloes rank 78th in the nation in run defense (166.4 yards), but have been carved up through the air. Colorado is 129th in pass defense (316 yards), 124th in total defense (482.4 yards) and 116th in points (34.9 points per game).

Colorado has been unable to get into the backfield this season, as they rank 100th in sacks and 130th in tackles for loss. All those positive plays for opponents have resulted in Colorado allowing 49.5% of third downs, good for 124th overall.

Linebacker Nate Landman leads the defense with 85 tackles. Nine of the 11 team sacks have come from just three players — Alex Tchangam, Terrance Lang and Mustafa Johnson. Safety Mikial Onu leads Colorado with four interceptions, while Derrion Rakestraw has two.

Colorado is certain to show different looks against USC early on, as all teams have this season, and it won’t be a good sign if the Trojans can’t react quickly and start fast offensively. The Buffaloes haven’t gotten off to great starts on this side of the ball this season, and they’ve been downright terrible for long stretches. Colorado opponents have totaled at least 215 yards in every first half, and Arizona State’s 76 yards in the first quarter is the only time Colorado has kept an opponent under 100 yards in a first or second quarter this season. The Buffaloes have also allowed at least 30 points in 12-straight games. USC has gotten off to slow starts offensively each of the last three games, and that will need to change on Friday night, as the Trojans need to start strong in a Friday night road game that has been a problem for virtually every Pac-12 program.

Special Teams

#48 James Stefanou (6-1, 190)

#89 Alex Kinney (6-1, 205)

Kickoff return
#3 K.D. Nixon (5-8, 185)

Punt return
#14 Dimitri Stanley (5-11, 185)

James Stefanou is 11-for-14 this season, but he’s missed three of his last four kicks. His long this season is 44 yards. Colorado has done well covering kicks this season, as opponents are averaging just 21 yards per kickoff return.

Punter Alex Kinney is averaging 45 yards per punt and has forced 13 fair catches on his 32 punts, with just three touchbacks.

K.D. Nixon is averaging 23.7 yards on kickoff returns this year, but Shenault is always available to go back deep. He has one return for 54 yards this season. Dimitri Stanley has taken five punt returns for 40 yards.

Erik McKinney
Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.

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