Fraternizing with the Enemy: Notes on the USC Trojans

USC running back Ronald Jones II powers past three Buff defenders to score a touchdown during the second quarter of play at Folsom Field. Nov. 11, 2017. (Nigel Amstock/CU Independent)

This Saturday, Oct. 13, the No. 19 Colorado Buffaloes travel to Los Angeles, California, to take on the USC Trojans at the LA Memorial Coliseum. In light of this matchup, CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero spoke with Rebecca Tapanes, Sports Editor of USC’s Daily Trojan, to get some insider information on Southern Cal.

Justin Guerriero:  This Saturday, the No. 19 and undefeated Colorado Buffaloes are coming to LA to take on the Trojans. The Buffs’ magical 2016 season saw them begin to knock off Pac-12 Conference powerhouse teams that they had been routinely bullied by since CU joined the Pac-12 in 2011. The Trojans were an exception that year and also comfortably beat Colorado last year. Although players and coaches have called this matchup a “business as usual” event, for Colorado, beating Southern Cal this year for the first time in program history would be huge regarding morale and momentum. How are the Trojans, both players and coaches, viewing this Colorado team and Saturday’s game? In other words, are the Buffs at all still thought of as the Pac-12 whipping boys, and despite their success thus far in 2018, are incapable of toppling the historically mighty USC Trojans?

Rebecca Tapanes: The Trojans are viewing the Buffs as a force to be reckoned with. [USC head coach Clay] Helton commended Colorado’s offensive performances thus far with a quarterback that is second in completion percentage in college football and a unit that puts up 38 points a game. [The Buffs] can run, they can pass and their quarterback is dynamic. Obviously none of that can be taken lightly. On the other hand, Colorado is just another team that USC needs to beat to move forward. The Trojans have struggled a lot internally, and that would affect their play this week regardless of the opponent.

JG: Plain and simple: is USC’s secondary going to be able to contain the nation’s third-leading receiver, CU’s sophomore Laviska Shenault, Jr.?

RT: There have been moments of USC being a solid defensive team. Holding Stanford to 17 points was telling of what the defense can do, but it’s been inconsistent since. Coming off of a bye week, the defense should be more prepared to face Shenault. Whether or not they execute could be in the hands of our experienced veterans, namely senior safety Marvel Tell and cornerback Iman Marshall. USC has struggled with its safety position after losing Bubba Bolden to issues outside of football and Isaiah Pola-Mao to a shoulder injury. Freshman safety Talanoa Hufanga could be instrumental, but it’s a worry that his youth will show.

JG: Colorado’s game through the air speaks for itself, but is there anything else about CU, offensively and defensively, that particularly worries you? What advantages do you see on paper that Colorado might have over the Trojans and vice versa?

RT: Senior running back Travon McMillian has scored four touchdowns this season. The Trojans have been good at stopping the run game, particularly versus Stanford’s Bryce Love and Arizona’s J.J. Taylor (in the first half), so I think they will execute on stopping McMillan. As for pressuring Montez, USC’s defensive line could give him too much time to create plays. USC only has nine sacks so far this season, and that’s not something that has been particularly prominent in games.

JG: Tell me about Southern Cal’s true freshman QB J.T. Daniels. How’s his season been? What has he done right and what has he done wrong?

RT: For his youth and his inexperience, Daniels has handled his role well. He’s been a good decision maker, but he struggled in the beginning of the season in connecting with his receivers. He found success with former high school teammate and freshman wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown the first few weeks, and showed big improvement against Arizona with completions to all three key receivers – redshirt sophomore Tyler Vaughns, junior Michael Pittman and St. Brown – in just the first half. Daniels’ chemistry with the receivers has improved significantly, and hopefully that can increase his completion percentage, which currently sits at 59.9 percent, as the weeks go on.

JG: Can you give me some playmakers on both offense and defense that could trouble the Buffaloes? Who does Colorado need to look out for?

RT: St. Brown has come up with some big yardage plays in almost every game, and he has scored the most touchdowns out of Vaughns and Pittman, but all three receivers should pick up some big plays. The “three-headed monster,” as Helton refers to the Trojans’ tailbacks, consists of Aca’Cedric Ware, Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr and have been the keys when USC needs to score. Ware picked up his highest yardage of the season against Arizona with 173, so the Buffs should look for explosive plays from him. Although Malepeai might have half the total yards that Ware has, he has scored six touchdowns compared to Ware’s three and Carr’s lone score. Colorado can expect him to be on the field when USC is in the red zone. USC started to show its tight ends against Arizona, with sophomore Josh Falo collecting 54 yards, the highest of the game (tied with St. Brown).  Colorado should look out for some tight end action from Falo and senior Tyler Petite. Plays to them may not be frequent, but they will be productive.

JG: The Trojans are 2-0 since a rough 37-14 loss to Texas in week 3. How has USC bounced back since that beating? What’s the attitude of players and coaches in the locker room following two narrow victories over conference foes?

RT: USC knows it has a lot to fix. The coaches are proud of Daniels for making those offensive connections, but overall, penalties are killing the Trojans. Against Texas, they had 99 yards worth of penalties, and the Trojans topped that versus Arizona with 18 penalties for 169 yards. The stark difference at Arizona during the first and second half showed that consistency is an issue. Ware complained about lazy practices after [the Trojans’ Week 3 loss at] Texas, making it clear that the staff needs to focus on discipline. Updates from coaches and players have been saying that these last few weeks of practice have been harder, and they expect the team to come out against Colorado with discipline and consistency.

JG: What’s your score prediction?

RT: USC 27, Colorado 21

The Buffaloes and Trojans kickoff on Saturday, Oct. 13 from Los Angeles at 5:30 p.m.

Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero a justin.guerriero@colorado.edu and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.

Contact USC Daily Trojan Sports Editor Rebecca Tapanes at sportsdt@gmail.com and follow the Daily Trojan Sports team on Twitter @DT_Sports.

Justin Guerriero

Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero is a city boy from Pittsburgh, PA, who fell in love with the mountains upon touring CU Boulder for the first time prior to his freshman year. He is a diehard Pittsburgh sports fan and covers whatever needs to be covered at the CUI. Justin is a junior majoring in broadcast production with minors in history and communication. Follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo

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