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Takeaways From Buffs Loss At USC

Nov 12, 2022
Nikko Reed collected an interception vs. USC on Friday.

BOULDER — While virtually nobody expected Colorado to produce an upset of No. 8 USC on Friday — and virtually everybody was right — the Buffaloes nevertheless missed an opportunity to make the game much closer than the final 55-17 score.

That's been the story for the Buffs too many times this season. Missed opportunities and mistakes have led to a long list of lopsided losses.

Now, the 1-9 Buffaloes have two games remaining, meaning two chances to get to at least two wins and escape joining the 1980, 1984 and 2012 teams as the only Buffs squads in modern history to win just one game in a season.

What we learned from Friday night's loss in the Coliseum:

1. CU's coaches have produced some good defensive scheme tweaks.  For a quarter, at least, the Buffaloes befuddled USC's high-powered offense and quarterback Caleb Williams.

The Buffs forced two three-and-outs and recorded an interception in the first quarter, limiting the Trojans to just 8 yards total offense. Colorado rushed just three players, dropped eight into coverage and kept Williams in check for a quarter. Nikko Reed came up with an interception — just the second thrown by Williams this year — and CU also collected a big sack from linebacker Quinn Perry on a delayed blitz.

The Buffs had a chance to extend their edge into the second quarter — but allowed USC to convert a third-and-19, a third-and-23, a third-and-2 and a third-and-9 (on a penalty) to produce the Trojans' first touchdown of the night. 

Still, CU received some solid performances from Reed and a handful of other young players. Freshman DB Simeon Harris played 70 snaps and had the highest Pro Football Focus grade of any CU defender in the game. DBs Kaylin Moore, Reed and Jason Oliver also graded out reasonably well.

Colorado also had a season-high three sacks after not having any in the last two games.

2. Consistent quarterback play is still elusive. The Buffs have started three different quarterbacks this year and inconsistency has been the most consistent result.

Saturday, J.T. Shrout had a key fumble early, missed an open receiver that could have produced a first-quarter touchdown, threw an interception early in the third quarter and completed just 52 percent of his throws. 

By no means is it all on Shrout's shoulders. He was under pressure much of the night and the Buffs were missing their best receiver, Jordyn Tyson.

But the Buffs are going to need more consistent quarterback play, not only for the next two games, but next season as well. It will no doubt be a key development next spring for whoever has the reins as CU's head coach.

3. Kudos to RB Alex Fontenot and the rest of CU's seniors. Fontenot has had an injury-plagued career — but he never quit. Saturday night, he ran as hard as he has in his career, finishing with 108 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.

Fontenot is part of a CU senior contingent that has endured a difficult time in Boulder. They were part of the shortened 2020 Covid season that produced a bowl appearance, but there have been few other bright spots. This year in particular they could have taken it easy, especially down the stretch, and saved the wear and tear on their bodies.

Instead, Fontenot was running fearlessly. Tight end Brady Russell, who has also endured injuries, threw some big blocks. Daniel Arias played like a demon on special teams. Defenders Terrance Lang, Guy Thomas and Quinn Perry each gave it their all trying to corral Williams.

They played hard because they love the game and they respect the Colorado uniform. For that, every CU senior deserves a nod of appreciation.

4. Missed opportunities have haunted CU all season. One play that still sticks out in our mind?

Try a fourth-and-1 on CU's first offensive possession of the season. The Buffs had a chance to collect a first down deep in TCU territory and put themselves in position for an opening-drive touchdown.

Instead, the Buffs came up empty … and it seems as if that set the tone for the season. Not to say the final outcome of the game would have been much different had Colorado scored. But it at least would have been fun to see what confidence and momentum would have done for CU at that moment.

But that moment also seemed to set the tone for the year. Seemingly every time the Buffs gave themselves a chance at momentum as the season progressed, the opportunity too often slipped away.

If there's any bright spot, it's that CU's young players should learn from those moments. If adversity builds character, the young Buffs will have a coat of armor heading into next year.

5. Credit Mike Sanford and the rest of the CU staff with the job they've done. When Sanford was named interim head coach with seven games remaining, it was an impossible situation. A brutal schedule down the stretch and a team that had lost much of its confidence was reeling.

Sanford managed to produce a win in his first game, and the entire staff has somehow convinced the Buffs to keep playing hard. There has been improvement in player development and the staff has continued to recruit for a future they might not be a part of. 

The situation is no doubt a difficult one for all involved, but every member of the staff has continued to invest in Colorado. That's an admirable trait that CU fans should appreciate.