Trojans’ title aspirations hinge on defense 

(News4usonline) – USC won the battle against Colorado, but defensively, the Trojans are losing the war. USC got six touchdowns from quarterback Caleb Williams in its 48-41 road win against the Buffaloes. With the victory, the Trojans stayed undefeated and moved to 5-0 on the season. 

“Fired up to get to win, guys played a really good first half, best first half we played all year against a good opponent and a tremendous atmosphere and we give Colorado and their fans, everybody, a lot of credit,” USC head coach Lincoln Riley said. “It was a really tremendous road atmosphere even when we got up, that they kept it loud in there and I felt like they kind of kept their team in it in a lot of ways. Didn’t play a very good second half on any of the three sides.” 

The Trojans’ win seems like a matter of semantics. USC still has the nuts and bolts of their 2023 schedule ahead of them with with game dates against Notre Dame (Oct. 14), Utah (Oct. 21), Washington (Nov.4), and Oregon (Nov. 11) coming down the pipeline. 

USC defense back Jalin Smith (19) brings some pain to a Nevada ballcarrier during the Trojans’ 66-14 win on Sept. 2, 2023. Photo by Melinda Meijer/News4usonline

The most impressive thing the Trojans have going is Williams, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. However, there’s a little matter of playing defense or the lack of playing defense that just might cause USC not to get back to the Pac-12 Championship Game or have a chance at participating in one of the major College Football Playoff bowl games.  

 A deep matter of concern for Riley and the Trojans was how they allowed a blowout turn back into a tense-filled contest by the time the clock hit zero in the fourth quarter. At one point during the game, USC led 34-14 going into halftime. And when Brenden Rice hauled in a six-yard catch for a touchdown from Williams in the third quarter, the game almost became laughable as the Trojans took a 41-14 advantage.  

The Trojans were on cruise control. The Trojans then got hit square in the mouth by the Buffaloes. After going scoreless in the first quarter, Colorado outscored USC, 27-14, in the second half and put more than a little scare into the Trojans. All that laughing and celebrating stopped. After being blown out by Oregon the previous week, Colorado, led by their head coach, Deion Sanders, made sure that would not happen on their home turf. 

“Wonderful game. They played their hearts out,” Sanders said. “I addressed the team and told them I love each of them, coaches included, because they were resilient. They did not give up and they had multiple, multiple opportunities to give up. They fought to the end. We sustained injuries, meaning the next man up came in and did their thing.” 

The comeback attempt staged by Colorado has a simple explanation, said Riley after the game. 

“They made plays and we kind of didn’t,” Riley remarked. “We had opportunities on all three sides with opportunities to finish some plays offensively, we had opportunities to get the quarterback down, we had opportunities to tackle hitches for a five-yard gain, and the things that we did in the first half and listen when you stop doing that, especially on the road against a team that has some talent like they do, they’re going to make a run and they did and so it’s self-inflicted errors.”

Those self-inflicted errors amounted to Colorado getting 32 first downs, rushing for 193 yards, and amassing 564 yards in total offense. That’s not to mention the Trojans allowing Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders to shred their defense for 371 passing yards and four touchdowns through the air and who ran for another score. 

USC linebacker Mason Cobb (13) applies a solid hit on a San Jose State runner during the Trojans’ 56-28 win at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Aug. 26, 2023. Photo by Sammy Saludo/News4usonline

Deion Sanders, better known as Coach Prime, talked about the team not giving up in the second half of the ballgame.

“We challenged them tremendously at halftime,” the elder Sanders said. “You know, everybody says they want the light until they get in the light. Now, when you get in the light, the thing about the light is it echoes your blemishes. So we challenge them to come out here. Like I ain’t got time to try to fire you up and give you the most dynamic speech that I could craft, you know, intellectually, and use some true words that I have to look up in my vocabulary and in the thesaurus. I ain’t got time for that today, I just wanted to come out there. I wanted them to lift me up, you know, motivate me, encourage me not that I needed it.”

USC star linebacker Mason Cobb gave his assessment of what took place from the first half to what happened over the course of the last two quarters. 

“The first half I felt like we were playing a complete game, I mean until they scored before we went out,” Cobb said. “The energy was high, we came in. Eventually, they scored before halftime – and you know, the guys may not be as aggressive as they were in the first half. The energy was high and it’s all about staying awake – we gotta stay awake on defense and finish plays. We have the right coverage and everything.”

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