Photo courtesy of USC Athletics
LOS ANGELES, Calif. (Sports Network) - The No. 11 USC Trojans will continue their quest to re-enter the national championship race when they welcome in the Colorado Buffaloes for a Pac-12 conference game at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
A three-game winning streak has USC back within striking distance of the top-10, as the 5-1 Trojans now sit at No. 11. The Trojans are even higher (10) in the first BCS rankings of the season. The Trojans' overall record, which includes a 3-1 tally against Pac-12 foes, has come despite the squad playing four of the first six games on the road.
"We're excited that we went on the road for four of the first six games and outside of one (loss) we're 5-1," head coach Lane Kiffin said while looking forward to a stretch of three games in the next four at LA Coliseum. "We've got some stuff to work on and get ready to come home."
The first visitor to the Coliseum in almost a month will be the 1-5 Colorado Buffaloes who have lost back-to-back games entering play. In those two losses the Buffaloes have been outscored by a margin of 93-31. Most recently the Buffaloes dropped a 51-17 decision at home to Arizona State. Colorado is just 1-2 in Pac-12 play.
Last season was the first in which Colorado and USC squared off as conference opponents. USC won that matchup in convincing fashion 43-17 behind a school- record six touchdown passes from Matt Barkley. The win also increased USC's perfect record all-time against Colorado to 6-0.
The Buffaloes are the worst scoring team in the Pac-12 (20.8 ppg) this season, while ranking better than only two other teams in total offense (326.5 ypg).
Jordan Webb has been the man under center this season for Colorado. Webb has completed 56.5 percent of his passes for 1,141 yards, with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. Webb has not had an opportunity to really build consistency, with Colorado second to last in sacks allowed (27) in the Pac-12. Webb has taken 26 of those quarterback takedowns.
Nelson Spruce (27 receptions, 291 yards, 2 TDs) and Tyler McCulloch (20 receptions, 243 yards, 2 TDs) have been Webb's most consistent targets. However tight end Nick Kasa has seen a jump in production in the last three games, with 10 receptions and 199 yards during that stretch. He has also caught a touchdown pass in each of those games.
The numbers in the run game are not any better than those passing, with Colorado having just 665 yards rushing on the season, the third worst total in the Pac-12. Christian Powell (294 yards) and Tony Jones (222 yards) are the two most productive backs, although Powell was sidelined by injury against Arizona State.
There's not much the offense can do with how poor Colorado's defense has been though. The Buffaloes are ranked last in the Pac-12 in both scoring (41.3 ppg) and total defense (494.2 ypg).
Terrel Smith (52) and Derrick Webb (48) are the two leading tacklers on the roster, while Chidera Uzo-Diribe has been a solid pass rusher with six sacks.
USC is scoring at a healthy 32.3 points per game clip this season but the Trojans have not been the prolific offense that was advertised entering 2012. The Trojans are just seventh in the Pac-12 in total offense (415.2 ypg) and the vaunted passing attack is ranked just sixth (249.5 ypg).
The passing game's inconsistency was evident in the squad's most recent matchup against Washington with starting quarterback Matt Barkley throwing for a season-low 167 yards with one touchdown on 10-of-20 passing. Barkley has really regressed this season, putting up three games with less than 200 yards passing and two with a completion percentage of less than 50 percent. Last season Barkley threw for less than 200 yards only twice and never completed less than 54.3 percent of his passes.
With Barkley limited, the production of talented receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods also dropped off. Woods had five receptions for 88 yards, while Lee had season-lows in receptions (two) and yards (32). That game aside, Lee has been one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in college football this season, with a Pac-12 leading totals in receptions (54), yards (681) and touchdowns (seven).
While the passing game struggled to get on the same page it was the Trojans' rushing attack that carried the squad to the victory over Washington. Penn State-transfer Silas Redd rushed for 155 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries for his second game of more than 150 yards this season. Redd now has 570 yards and six rushing touchdowns this season.
"(Silas has) been very important and a big part of the reason we went to get him was these last two games," Kiffin said. "Going on the road in a place that coming into the year has been tough to play he played big."
The real question many had about USC entering this season was on defense and the Trojans have largely silenced those critics. USC has the second-best defense in the Pac-12 in terms of total yards (331.5 ypg) and is third in scoring (18.5 ppg). The unit's ability to force opposing teams to make mistakes has been key, with the Trojans collecting the third most turnovers in the Pac-12 (16). That includes a league best 11 interceptions.
"It's the first time in three years we've felt where we go on the road in a hostile environment we can play to our defense at times," Kiffin said while crediting his defense with keeping the Trojans in game this season.
T.J. McDonald and Dion Bailey have been impressive with McDonald having a team-leading 47 tackles. Bailey has 42 tackles and has collected a team-high four interceptions. Lamar Dawson (12.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks) and Leonard Williams (8.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks) have been disruptive in opposing backfields.