Buffs Fall On Road To USC
LOS ANGELES — Colorado threw an early scare into No. 8 USC on Friday but the Trojans took control in the second quarter and pulled away for a 55-17 win over the Buffaloes at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Colorado fell to 1-9 overall and 1-6 in Pac-12 play while USC improved to 9-1, 7-1.
The Buffs led 3-2 after the first quarter, thanks to a stellar defensive effort. But the Trojans scored 24 unanswered points in the second period to take control and Colorado never really threatened again.
Colorado managed just 232 yards total offense. Quarterback J.T. Shrout was 11-for-21 for 124 yards and an interception, and he ran for his first collegiate touchdown. CU running back Alex Fontenot had his first 100-yard game since 2019, finishing with 108 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Jack Hestera led CU receivers with three catches for 39 yards.
The Trojans finished with 531 yards total offense. USC quarterback Caleb Williams was 14-for-26 for 268 yards and three touchdowns — but he also threw his second interception of the season, a first quarter pick by Colorado cornerback Nikko Reed. Williams also ran for two scores.
The Trojans also converted nine of 12 third-down attempts while CU was just 3-for-12. The Buffs also lost a fumble deep in their own territory that led to one USC touchdown and gave the Trojans their first points on an intentional grounding call against Shrout in the end zone that resulted in a safety.
"It was a good start, particularly on defense," said interim head coach Mike Sanford. "I was pleased with how we prepared and came out and gave some different looks. But Caleb Williams is one of those guys who if you give him a chance to pick you apart, he's gonna pick you apart … Ultimately, the turnovers and intentional grounding safety were too much to overcome against the team with the firepower that they have."
HOW IT HAPPENED: Colorado's defense gave the Buffs some opportunities early. CU forced a USC three-and-out on the Trojans' first possession, collected Reed's interception on the second and forced another three-and-out on the Trojans' third possession.
But the Buffs squandered the interception when Shrout tried to throw the ball away from the end zone and was called for intentional grounding. That resulted in a safety and a 2-0 lead for USC despite the Trojans not having gained as much as a first down.
The Buffs finally put together some offense on their fourth possession, thanks to a USC penalty on fourth down that gave Colorado a fourth-and-1. Sanford elected to go for it and Fontenot converted with a 4-yard run to keep the drive alive.
Fontenot then rumbled for 37 yards on the next play, getting a great block from tight end Brady Russell to put Colorado in the red zone. While the Buffs couldn't come up with another first down, they did get a Cole Becker 28-yard field goal to take a 3-2 lead heading into the second quarter.
But the Trojans' offense then awakened, putting up 24 unanswered points before halftime.
Williams capped a 72-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run for a 9-3 USC lead, then added a 4-yard scoring run minutes later to extend the margin to 16-3 after a Shrout fumble gave USC the ball at Colorado's 8-yard line.
"The thing that's frustrating is our defense is playing as well as they are, particularly in the first half, and then giving USC a short field," Sanford said. "The fumble really is a huge piece of the game that was a self-inflicted wound. Obviously it's frustrating but there's nothing else we can do besides just continue to go back to work."
Colorado's offense couldn't move on the next possession and USC responded with a 67-yard USC touchdown drive, with Williams throwing 32 yards to former Buff Brenden Rice for the score.
The Trojans then added a field goal as time expired for a 26-3 halftime edge.
Colorado put together a solid start to open the third quarter when CU edge rusher Jamar Montgomery sacked Williams as USC tried to convert a fourth-and-8 on the Trojans' opening possession.
The sack gave Colorado the ball near midfield and nine plays and 53 yards later, the Buffs finally found the end zone. Fontenot carried seven times for 51 yards on the march, including the 3-yard touchdown run that pulled the Buffs to within 26-10.
But the CU momentum was short-lived. USC needed just two plays to score again, getting a 61-yard touchdown pass from Williams to Tahj Washington and a two-point conversion gave the Trojans a 34-10 lead.
Colorado's next possession lasted just one play, an interception thrown by Shrout. Eight plays later, USC tallied its fifth touchdown, as a 12-yard TD pass from Williams to Austin Jones pushed CU's deficit to 41-10.
USC's reserves added another score early in the fourth quarter to give the Trojans a 48-10 lead.
The Buffs did manage to find the end zone one more time, going 75 yards in nine plays. Shrout completed passes of 26 yards to Jack Hestera and 16 yards to Fontenot, then hit Russell for 9 yards to convert a third down. Shrout capped the drive by taking it into the end zone from 8 yards out and Becker's PAT cut USC's lead to 48-17.
The Trojans then added one more touchdown in the final minute to complete the scoring.
"We're gonna keep on fighting, keep on finding a way to put ourselves in position to win games," Sanford said. "I thought we did that and it got away from us today. But we're going to come back to work and find resolve to go play two more really good football teams."
KEY STATISTIC: The Buffs allowed USC to convert nine of 12 third-down plays, including a third-and-23, a third-and-19 and a third-and-14 … USC averaged 7.2 yards per play … Colorado had two turnovers, both of which the Trojans converted into touchdowns … The Trojans had 16 plays of at least 10 yards.
WHAT IT MEANS: The Buffs have two more chances to add a second conference win and avoid becoming the second 1-11 team in program history.
TURNING POINT: After Colorado took a 3-2 lead into the second quarter, the Buffs had several chances to stop USC's next possession. But the Trojans converted four third downs — including third-and-19 and third-and-23 — to put together a 72-yard touchdown drive. USC took a 9-3 lead, the beginning of 24 unanswered points in the second quarter to take firm control of the game.
UP NEXT: The Buffs travel to Seattle next Saturday (Nov. 19) for a 7 p.m. (MT) game against Washington (Pac-12 Network).