BOULDER – Southern California continued its mastery over Colorado on Saturday night, beating the Buffs 47-29 for its eighth consecutive win in the series and snuffing CU’s faint hope of reaching the postseason.
Their disappointing Senior Night at frigid Folsom Field dropped the Buffs to 4-7 overall (1-7 Pac-12) and sends them to Utah next Saturday to end their season. With an upset of the No. 23 Trojans, the Buffs would have moved within one win of bowl eligibility with the trip to Salt Lake City awaiting.
Now, Mike MacIntyre’s first CU team simply will try to end the season on an upbeat note. “To me this should be a fun week for us,” MacIntyre said, citing no classes because of Thanksgiving break, the focus on football, and the camaraderie he believes his players have established with each other and with his coaching staff.
“These young men, we have bonded with them and they have bonded with us,” MacIntyre said. “I’ve liked their effort, what they’ve done . . . they’ve been through a lot. It’s not always happened on the scoreboard for us, but we have made progress.”
“I think this year we’ve made incredible strides,” added sophomore receiver Nelson Spruce. “We’re on the verge of being able to compete in every game . . . I think we built a lot this year with this staff.”
CU’s seniors, said MacIntyre, “have helped this program move forward” and enabled him to chart progress in his first year. “But we need to start seeing more progress on the scoreboard . . . I’d definitely like to see that ‘W’ Saturday – just like Utah would.”
But in mid-20-degree temperatures Saturday night – the second-coldest game ever for USC – the Trojans showed the Buffs how much more work is ahead. CU, which has been outscored 277-76 by USC in their eight meetings, lost its 14th consecutive game to a ranked opponent. The Buffs’ last win against a Top 25 team was in 2009 against No. 17 Kansas (34-30).
USC (9-3, 6-2 – including 6-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron) took advantage of a pair of late first-half turnovers by CU freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau to go ahead 23-0 at intermission. The Buffs converted a Trojans fumble into a score before the second half was a minute old, but never could generate enough offense to catch USC.
“I’m proud of how our guys kept fighting, kept battling,” MacIntyre said, “but we just couldn’t get anything going offensively in the first half."
Playing only three quarters, Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler completed 19-of-28 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns. But USC did most of its damage with sophomore tailback Javorius Allen, who rushed for 145 yards and three touchdowns before given the rest of the night off midway through the fourth quarter.
Liufau finished 17-of-33 passing for 188 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception. His scoring passes went to Paul Richardson (5 yards) and Spruce (38). Richardson finished with eight receptions – all in the second half – for 88 yards and the score. Michael Adkins II led the Buffs in rushing with 63 yards on 13 carries (one TD).
MacIntyre said USC double-covered Richardson frequently in the first half, then went to more “quarters” coverage in the second half. “We were able to get him the ball a little more,” MacIntyre said. “And we moved him around a little more.”
USC outgained CU 449-312 in total offense, with just over half of the Buffs’ output coming in the fourth quarter. Through three quarters, CU had 150 yards of total offense against a USC defense that ranks second in the Pac-12.
“Their front seven was by far the best we’ve played,” Liufau said. “They got pressure on us and their defensive backs covered really well . . . they were always in the right spots.”
USC left top receiver Marqise Lee at home to nurse a shin injury, but the Trojans really didn’t need him. The Buffs had no success against the Trojans defense in the first half, and CU’s offense was far too generous to USC. The Trojans capitalized on the pair of Liufau turnovers – one fumble, one interception – to go ahead 23-0 at halftime and put the Buffs in an all-too-familiar hole.
“It was a combination of things,” Liufau said of CU’s lack of first-half productivity. “We didn’t get anything clicking at the beginning.”
“It was a lack of execution, the coaches had a good plan for us,” added Spruce, who made four catches for 52 yards – including his 38-yard TD.
Although they able to generate only 36 yards in total offense in the first quarter, CU had stayed close, trailing only 9-0 at quarter’s end. USC drove 71 yards in 10 plays on its first possession and went ahead 7-0 on Allen’s 12-yard run and Andre Heidari’s extra point kick.
With 1:04 left in the quarter, USC’s advantage went to 9-0 when Soma Vainuku blocked Darragh O’Neill’s punt out of the end zone for a safety. Still, the Buffs have seen much worse than a nine-point deficit after one quarter.
But midway through the second quarter, things did get worse.
Pulled down from the backside by defensive end Leonard Williams, Liufau lost the ball and USC end George Uko gathered it in at the CU 20-yard line. Five plays later, Allen scored his second TD, this one on a 1-yard run. The Trojans went up 16-0, but still more problems for Liufau and the Buffs awaited.
On CU’s next series, USC free safety Dion Bailey pulled in a Liufau pass that appeared headed for the Buffs bench. At their own 34, the Trojans had 2:34 – but no timeouts – to make a push for the end zone. They didn’t need the timeouts; Kessler took them the distance in eight plays, hitting receiver Nelson Agholor with a 20-yard scoring pass.
The Buffs were looking at a 23-0 deficit – and Richardson was still looking for his first catch – when the second half opened. USC outgained CU 206-73 in the first half, including 169-43 on the ground. Liufau completed only four of 15 first-half passes for 43 yards, and his two turnovers were costly.
CU needed a break – and got it – to start the second half. On USC’s first possession, Allen was stripped of the ball by CU safety Jered Bell, who scooped and scored with a 31-yard run. With Will Oliver’s PAT, the Buffs trailed 23-7.
If CU had a comeback in mind, a defensive stop was needed. It didn’t happen; USC went 75 yards on the ensuing possession, getting a 46-yard run from Allen and scoring on a 10-yard pass from Kessler to tight end Randall Telfer. The Buffs were again looking at a 23-point deficit (30-7) with 11:29 left in the third quarter.
Less than 5 minutes later, Allen took revenge on Bell, juking him with an outside fake and cutting inside on the way to a 23-yard TD. USC went up 37-7 and Allen went over 100 yards rushing (123) with his third TD of the night.
Less than a minute into the fourth quarter, Liufau and Spruce teamed for their 38-yard score, with Spruce taking the ball off the back of a USC defender at the 1-yard line and stepping into the end zone. Oliver’s extra point made it 37-14, but Heidari’s 39-yard field goal extended the Trojans’ margin to 40-14 with 10:14 to play.
A 30-yard Liufau completion to Richardson set up a 3-yard TD run by Adkins that got the Buffs to within 40-21. That was followed by a Liufau-to-Richardson 5-yard scoring pass and Liufau’s two-point conversion pass to D.D. Goodson that drew the Buffs to within 40-29.
CU attempted an on-sides kick, but USC recovered with 3:16 left and when Vainuku scored on a 52-yard run a minute later and Heidari booted the extra point, the night’s scoring and CU’s home season were done.
Now comes the final week week of practice and the season finale at Utah. “Coach said we could fall apart or end the season on the right note and go into next year,” Spruce said.