BOULDER – The Colorado Buffaloes are hoping California cool is trumped by Colorado cold. But that’s only a fraction of what the Buffs are banking on for possible edges Saturday night against No. 23 Southern California.
Any advantage – physical, emotional, mental – is wanted/needed/appreciated, and these are several other places CU will look:
· It’s Senior Night at Folsom Field, with 16 seniors being counted for their final home games. However, the list includes injured running back Josh Ford, who likely will petition for another season, and injured defensive back Tommy Papilion, a student-assistant coach. Neither will play. The list doesn’t include record-setting junior receiver Paul Richardson, who admits to having thought about this possibly being his final home game.
· Call them crazy, but the Buffs are still talking bowl game. And why not? Needing two wins with two games remaining (the season finale is next Saturday at Utah), they can still reach six ‘W’s and be a postseason participant for the first time since 2007. You never say never until you can’t, and the Buffs are maintaining mathematical hope.
· Can you say “momentum?” It might not be the equivalent of what USC did last weekend in knocking off then-No. 5 Stanford 20-17, but, hey, CU is coming off a win, too. The Buffs bashed Cal 41-24, winning their first Pac-12 game of the Mike MacIntyre era and snapping a 14-game conference losing streak. Momentum is in the eye of the beholder.
· CU freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau has five games (four starts) under his belt and is growing more confident and into his role each week. In his most complete game to date, he completed 23 of 36 passes for 364 yards and three TDs (one interception) last week against Cal. He’s now completed 63.4 percent of his passes (109-of-172; 1,350 yards; 8 TDs; 6 INT). Said Richardson: “He is making better decisions each week. He wouldn’t have had a turnover this past week if he didn’t get hit in the arm on that one pass (and) that would have actually been a touchdown. I just like his growth and maturity. Watching him mature, helping him and encouraging him has been awesome.”
· The Buffs are fairly healthy for late November, the Trojans could be missing a pair of key starters – receiver Marqise Lee (shin) and defensive end Leonard Williams (shoulder). If they don’t play at all or their snaps are limited, does that level the playing field in any way? Maybe, maybe not. This is a typically talented Trojan roster, meaning there’s very little drop off with the next man up. “It’s USC,” said CU senior defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe. “They’re pulling the top recruits every year. There’s no doubt they’ve got talent.”
· At 1-6 in the conference, CU isn’t circled on any Pac-12 opponent’s schedule. On the other hand, USC’s season-finale is next week against its SoCal rival – No. 14 UCLA. L.A. area news outlets are suggesting that the Trojans might want to rest Lee, Williams and whoever else to be full-go against the hated Bruins. That’s no respect for the Buffs, but they simply haven’t earned it yet. On the other hand, isn’t time a decent team overlooked them?
· And isn’t it time that USC suffered a serious stumble under “Coach O?” That’s interim coach Ed Orgeron, who replaced Lane Kiffin in Week 6 and has captured the hearts and minds of his players (if not USC athletic director Pat Haden). The Trojans are 5-1 under Orgeron, with their only misstep a 14-10 loss last month at Notre Dame. Orgeron appears to be doing everything right, including the care and feeding of his troops. The team’s menu Friday night was scheduled to include 16-ounce ribeyes and Dove chocolate bars.
· Finally, let’s revisit the weather factor. It’s late November, it’s dark at 5:30 p.m. and Saturday night’s kickoff is at 7:30. Boulder’s day-time high will be 35ish, the night-time low 25ish. Neither is exactly L.A.-ish. Will it affect the Trojans? “I sure hope so,” MacIntyre said. “(But) once you start playing it doesn’t really bother you that much . . . I think you just go play.” Richardson’s take on the temps: “I think it going to affect them a lot (but) I think most of the players on our team are from areas that don’t get very cold either, so it is going to be tough. Yeah, we have been getting used to it, but we don’t ever really play in the below 20’s.”
No news flash here, but the Buffs playing a night game in late November doesn’t warm many CU fans. Not that athletic director Rick George can do much about the kickoff time or anything about the weather, but he’s not thrilled about it either.
Asked earlier this week if there was any solution, he answered, “No, it’s tough. The TV revenue we get from conference is important. I think the conference and institutions need to look at it closer to see if we can mitigate the number of those games. (CU has had one away and one home game with a late kickoff.) We want to minimize those, but from time to time we have to say we’re playing at 7:30 in November.
“Is it ideal? Absolutely not. Do I want to play at 7:30 at night? No.”
Still, George said the late MT kickoffs and tipoffs provide West Coast exposure, and in USC’s case, a 6:30 p.m. PT kickoff offers exposure to both programs. But, he conceded, “If it’s 10 degrees, we’re not going to show well on TV. And yes, I get that. A November game at 7:30 is not something I would support. But sometimes you deal with the things you have and you make the best of it.”
He added that a 7 p.m. kickoff in September or October “gives us some ideal exposure . . . (but) finishing at 10 or 11 at night is not ideal. Everybody fights for that primetime window and it does give us some exposure that we might not be able to get. It helps in recruiting and extends our brand beyond the Front Range.”
Regardless, Saturday night’s game will go on, and whether the Buffs will benefit from the cold, receive an emotional bounce from Senior Night, their bowl hopes, have the Trojans overlook them, etc., aren’t as important as tackling well and coping with USC’s offensive line.
CU defensive coordinator Kent Baer is a long-time Trojan watcher (he’s held the DC position at seven western schools and Notre Dame) and says this USC O-line “is among the best,” which he’s relayed to his players.
Senior tackle Nate Bonsu terms the Trojans line “probably the best we’ve played. They’re good at what they do. Everybody in the stadium is going to know what they want to do – and that’s run the ball inside. They’ve got some big guys, some really quick guys who can get off the line and get downhill. We have to play physical, get off blocks and make tackles. That’s the biggest thing.”
Despite any upfront advantage, USC is only ninth in the conference in total offense (394.3 yards per game) and seventh in rushing offense (171.1). But the Trojans defense ranks second in total defense (338.8) and third in both rushing defense (121.4) and pass defense (217.5).
MacIntyre and his offensive staff must strive for balance: “If you just decide you’re going to throw every time, their defensive line is too good. They can cover well enough that they can get to the quarterback. Then, if you decide you’re going to run all the time, then they’re good enough to press up. You have to be able to keep them off balance . . . there’s different ways to do that, but you can’t get one-dimensional on them because I think they’re too good.”
Meanwhile, seniors such as Bonsu are intent on maintaining their focus and keeping their last-home-game emotions in check. “Every day as it goes on it hits me more and more,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen on Saturday, but the emotions probably are going to take over. I’m excited though. We still have a chance to do some good things with this team. We’ve got a big game to play, it’s a game under the lights at Folsom. It’s definitely exciting.”