Thursday, November 3, 2011
5 things to watch: USC-Colorado
By Pedro Moura
1. The conditions and a potential letdown. Weather.com projects it to be 47 degrees at kickoff Friday night in Boulder. But it won't be snowing, and the weather, in general, won't be much worse than it was two weeks ago in South Bend -- except for the altitude, which could make for some easily-tired players and big boots from USC kicker Andre Heidari. And Buffaloes fans can get loud, and they typically turn out in big numbers for big-time opponents. Colorado nearly sold out Folsom Field two weeks ago when Oregon visited and Friday's game is reportedly approaching sellout status as well. This game definitely shows signs of the prototypical letdown game, but it's Lane Kiffin's job to prevent that from happening.
2. Putting it behind them. That brings us to what happened last week, because that's the biggest reason why everybody's talking about this game as a letdown chance. USC came thisclose to beating the fourth-ranked team in the country. They were within a second (or correctly called timeout) of kicking a potential game-winning field goal and went into triple overtime against Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal. But the Trojans didn't win the game, and Kiffin made a big fuss about some apparent officiating gaffes in the following days, forcing the conversation away from Colorado and onto Stanford. We'll see whether that was the right decision for his team on the field against the Buffaloes.
3. Richardson-Stewart. Colorado expects its two best offensive players to come back this week, a rarity in sports but a likelihood for USC. Receiver Paul Richardson (four games) and running back Rodney Stewart (two games) have been out of late, but coach Jon Embree said he expects them both back. Richardson spent his senior year in 2009 at Gardena Serra high, where he served as Robert Woods' bookend receiver, so he has plenty of history with the Trojans. The 5-6, 175-pound Stewart is an Ohio native who wasn't highly recruited out of high school but has gone on to success in the Big 12 and now the Pac-12.
4. Health on defense. It looks like Dion Bailey might miss the game because of a concussion. Jawanza Starling is likely missing it because of an unspecified injury, and T.J. McDonald is missing the first half because of a suspension. Combine that with the pile-up of injuries at cornerback over the last several weeks, and USC's secondary is going to be severely shorthanded. Kiffin and position coach Sammy Knight are lucky the Trojans are playing Colorado this week -- otherwise, it'd be a significant issue. And defensive end Wes Horton missed both sessions this week because of what appears to be a left arm issue. Also, the Buffaloes are getting two cornerbacks back this week, which should make for a decidedly better performance from their secondary. They played one game with six scholarship corners injured last month.
5. Blowout possibilities? This is the Trojans' last legitimate chance to send a team packing in one half, which they've yet to do this season. The closest thing to it would be their 20-0 halftime lead over Cal, but even that was a bit of a game in the second half. Colorado hasn't finished within three touchdowns of an opponent since Oct. 1, so this would appear to be the perfect opportunity. Matt Barkley might actually get a snap or two off, too, for the first time this year. If he does, Jesse Scroggins might be the guy Kiffin asks to hand the ball off a few times. With back-to-back games against teams they're 0-4 against in the last two years in Oregon and Washington approaching, the Trojans could use some all-around rest.