Buffaloes try for first win against USC in program history

Steven Montez keeps the ball and finds a hole in the USC defensive line. Nov. 11, 2017 (Phil McKenzie/CU Independent File)

There’s a disheartening statistic that hangs over the heads of the Colorado Buffaloes as they prepare for their visit against the University of Southern California Trojans today.

The Buffs have never defeated the Trojans in program history.

Dating back to 1927, USC has won all 12 of its meetings against Colorado while also outscoring the Buffs by a wide 419 to 169 margin.

Indeed, it’s a daunting matchup. But one can’t help but feel that this Buffaloes team is just a little different than the ones seen in the past. This year’s Buffs team looks like they’re capable of beating USC — appropriately in what will be lucky matchup No. 13.

“We all have a ‘dog’ mindset and a we-want-to-win mindset,” said sophomore standout Laviska Shenault, Jr., who leads the nation in receiving yards per game (141.6). “It’s different than last year.”

This year’s Colorado team will enter Southern California as the No. 19-ranked team in the nation and one of only 11 remaining undefeated teams. On the other hand, the Trojans will welcome the Buffs sporting a disappointing — by their standards, at least — 3-2 record, though that may not tell the whole story.

USC opened its schedule with a win over UNLV but dropped back to back contests against Pac-12 foe Stanford and the now No. 9-ranked University of Texas.

The Trojans, though, have been heating up a bit recently, winning back to back games against two Pac-12 teams: Washington State and Arizona.

Despite what their mediocre record may presume, Southern Cal may prove to be Buffs’ toughest task to date, not just as an opponent on the other side of the field, but because of the actual field itself. It won’t be an easy contest for Colorado, which must try to top the Trojans at the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The Coliseum holds 93,607 seats, nearly all of which will be close to sold out. USC is coming off a bye week and will welcome students and their parents in town for the annual parents’ weekend game, providing an even more rousing crowd than the one that usually watches.

“[With the] history of the Coliseum, [you know] there’s always going to be a great crowd there,” said head coach Mike MacIntyre. “I think that our guys will go there and play just like they did at the other places. They’re excited about playing there. I always say the stadiums are nice, the crowds are nice, but it’s [about] the dudes on the field in between the white lines.

The Buffs played in front of a similar number of fans a few weeks ago at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium. They will need to be prepared to play in another intimidating venue today.

“The Coliseum is kind of a mecca of football, a mecca of sports,” MacIntyre said. “It’s unique. I think that adds a little mystique to it and it also makes it fun to play there.”

USC has a definite home-field advantage in playing at the Coliseum. In fact, the Trojans have won their past 18 games at the Coliseum, including 13 straight against Pac-12 opponents.

As far as Colorado is concerned, it sports an 0-6 record at the historic complex.

“You can’t be intimidated,” added senior tailback Travon McMillian. “I just think we have to be ready and be focused, it’s not really about matching what they do. This group, these guys on the team, we kind of have our own swagger about ourselves.”

McMillian knows a thing or two about playing in hostile environments. The fifth-year graduate transfer of Virginia Tech used to have to lineup against the perpetually-ranked University of Miami every year, a football powerhouse school similar to USC.

“Playing against Miami, it was a good experience,” McMillian said. “Everybody in the East Coast kind of looks up to Miami and West Coast guys look up to USC. I think it’ll be a challenge for us and I’m excited to play against these guys and be able to just play and see what we can do.”

A commonly asked question during this week’s pre-game press conference centered around the potential distractions of playing in such an environment at the Coliseum.   

“Our main goal is that we focus on one team and the most important team is us,” said defensive end Mustafa Johnson. “We know that if we go out there, do what we’ve been training all week, talking about all week, and if we can execute it, we plan to be victorious.”

Semantics and fanfare aside, Johnson is right; the Buffs must be focused for what might be the biggest game of the season for the team. It is at least the biggest for them as far as the Pac-12 South is concerned.

The game itself has huge implications for the conference. A win over USC not only would give the Buffs its first 6-0 start since the 1994 season, but it would give Colorado a two-game advantage over the Trojans and the benefit of the tie-breaker, boosting CU’s chances to clinch the Pac-12 South title.

For MacIntyre and the Colorado Buffaloes, though, it’s just another game – albeit a big one.

“The way we look at it is, it’s our team against their team in 2018,” said MacIntyre. “Any time you’re playing a Pac-12 team, it’s big, but anytime you’re playing a Pac-12 South opponent, it’s a little bit bigger because you can separate yourself a little bit more or [the other team] can close the gap a little bit more.”

It’ll be a big matchup for the Buffs, the defense in particular, who must stop SC’s “Three-headed Monster” running attack.

Led by senior tailback Aca’Cedric Ware, the dangerous trio also boasts a pair of sophomore studs in Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai, the latter of whom leads the team with six rushing touchdowns and has scored in four of USC’s five games this season.

“Their O-line is big and strong… they’ve got some speed and a lot of athletic guys,” said Johnson, who leads the team with 4.5 sacks and 30 solo tackles. “Our goal is stop the run…I think our physicality is going to make a big difference because it will allow us to make more plays on the ball, it’s going to disrupt the offense and that’s what our goal is.”

Johnson and Co. have been pretty decent at stopping the run thus far. In five games, the Buffaloes’ defense has only allowed four total rushing touchdowns and has held opponents to zero rushing scores in three of the five games.

The team’s physical defense is going to play a big part of limiting the potent Trojans run game.

“It’s going to be very important that we keep the [intensity] going and keep our physicality going and turning it up even more than we have,” Johnson said. “It’s going to help us with messing up [USC’s] run game, help messing up their pass game.”

As the age-old sports aphorism goes: defense wins championships. A win against the Trojans would have huge implications in clinching the Pac-12 South. Which would subsequently greatly improve the team’s chances of clinching a spot in the Pac-12 Championship game.

Don’t expect this matchup to center so much around Colorado’s high-octane offense, led by Steven Montez and Shenault Jr. Rather, it’ll be the Buffs’ defense that will be its Trojan Horse  if you will  that usurps the despotic and mighty USC Trojans football program.

Limiting the Trojans’ truculent run game will be the key to the Buffs’ success as the team searches for its first-ever win against the stringent Southern California football team.

For what it’s worth, this one does feel a bit different. Colorado, for once, looks like the better team in this matchup.

“Our confidence is very high,” added Johnson. “We’re very prepared and we’re ready. We do have a chip on our shoulder, but I think the key factor here is that we don’t let that get to our head…yeah we’ve been winning, but we still have another game to play, we’ve got more games to play and we want to keep this going.”

The Buffaloes stampede into The Coliseum today at 8:30 pm MST.

Contact Sports Writer Scott MacDonald at scotty.macdonald@colorado.edu and follow him on Twitter @ScottTopics.

Scott MacDonald

SCOTT MACDONALD IS A SPORTS WRITER WHO HAILS FROM ENEMY TERRITORY (FORT COLLINS, CO), BUT ASSURES EVERYONE HE IS A BUFF THROUGH AND THROUGH. GROWING UP, SCOTT ALWAYS HAD AN AFFINITY FOR SPORTS, NAMELY HOCKEY AND FOOTBALL, AND IS EXCITED TO SCRIBE THAT PASSION THROUGH THE MEDIUM OF THE CU INDEPENDENT. SCOTT IS MAJORING IN COMMUNICATION WITH A MINOR IN BUSINESS. FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER @SCOTTTOPICS

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