A pair of undefeated Pac-12 South teams are set to battle in Los Angeles
Editor's note: On Thursday night, the Pac-12 announced that Saturday's game between Colorado and USC has been canceled due to COVID-19 issues with the Trojans.
USC has had a rather lucky year all things considered. The team only just had their first COVID-19 infected player this week and it was just the one. They have not had to cancel any games, nor have any of their opponents. In fact, Arizona State hasn't even played another game outside of USC because the Sun Devils got hit with a COVID outbreak right after. If USC can keep this streak of good luck — both in health and three straight wins — they may just make it all the way to the Pac-12 Championship game undefeated.
Up next on their list is a team they have never lost to in fourteen meetings: Colorado. This year, the Buffaloes are helmed by an old Pac-12 foe for the Trojans in Karl Dorrell. USC fans will remember Dorrell from his time at UCLA and their 13-9 victory over the Trojans in 2007. All USC had to do was beat UCLA and they were in the National Title game. They did not and have yet to make another appearance in the National Title game.
Colorado had an unexpected bye last week when its game against ASU got canceled, but the Buffs are off to an impressive 2-0 start. They've scored 83 points through two weeks after averaging just 23.5 points per game last season. Their 37.0 points per game allowed is a bit concerning, but it could make for a fun shootout this weekend.
Colorado at USC
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: USC -13.5
When Colorado Has the Ball
Senior quarterback Sam Noyer has been impressive in his first season as a starter with a 63.6 percent completion rate and 9.3 yards per attempt, and he crucially only has one interception through two games. He's been supported well by running back Jarek Broussard (53 att., 308 yds., 3 TDs) and receiver Dimitri Stanley (12 rec., 192 yds., TD).
Overall, Colorado has arguably the Pac-12's most explosive offense thus far with the Buffaloes No. 1 in the conference in points (41.5 ppg) and second in yards (478.5) per game. Colorado has controlled the clock (34:02 in time of possession) and has been extremely efficient once inside the red zone. The Buffs are a perfect 10-for-10 inside their opponent's 20-yard line with nine touchdowns and one field goal.
To try and disrupt Noyer, USC needs to find a way to continue to generate pressure with their front four. The Trojans have been rather diligent getting after opposing quarterbacks this year. While the Trojans have been hit with injuries and opt-outs along the defensive line, others have stepped up in their place and found a way to get the job done. If USC wants to continue their trend of winning games, they'll need to find a way to make life miserable for Noyer.
The USC secondary is full of ball hawks this season. The rate at which they've forced turnovers has only been offset by their own turnovers on offense. If the USC secondary can continue to play tight and aggressive while forcing turnovers and not committing penalties, they're likely going to find themselves in possession of balls thrown by Noyer. If they force another five turnovers like they did last week, it's going to be a long day for Dorrell's Buffaloes.
When USC Has the Ball
The turnovers need to stop. The Trojans have a healthy number of turnovers, but the reason they've been in many close games is because their turnover margin isn't where it should be. The goal of the offense is to keep the ball and put points on the board. It does the team no good if the defense secures an impressive number of turnovers and then the offense puts the ball back in the hands of the opposing defense. The Trojans have to find a way to limit those turnovers, and six through three games is unsustainable.
USC needs to find a way to get Drake London more involved and open up their offense. The first couple of games saw London nab twelve catches and over 190 receiving yards. The last game, in which the offense struggled mightily, saw London only haul in three receptions for 45 yards. If USC can get London more involved, they're going to be more explosive and unpredictable on offense.
That shouldn't be too hard if Kedon Slovis targets the sophomore receiver because CU has really struggled to stop the pass this season. They rank 119th nationally with 315.0 passing yards allowed per game allowed. Getting the ground game going should be more of a challenge since they've only given up 122.5 yards per game (30th in the FBS).
USC vs. Colorado is going to be a game that shapes the rest of the Pac-12 South. With Arizona State and Utah not even really competing in enough games to make a conference final, the Trojans and Buffaloes are poised to do battle for the Pac-12 South. Dorell has the Buffaloes undefeated and in a prime position to win the Pac-12 South should they find a way to defeat the Trojans this Saturday.
But USC should come away with a win rather easily. They've never lost to the Buffaloes in 14 meetings and shouldn't this year. However, if USC continues to hurt itself with turnovers and penalties, Colorado can find a way to sneak a win. All told, the Trojans should win this game, though, and find a way to cover the spread while they do it.
Prediction: USC 31, Colorado 17
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— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.