That wasn't the case Friday night at Folsom Field, although the bottom-line result was the same as the Buffaloes fell 27-24. But this one had a quite different feel, and lost among the season-ending injury to quarterback Sefo Liufau, USC's 24-0 run and CU's late comeback is the notion that the Buffs defense kept CU in the game.
"It's what we've been seeing all season," Buffs defensive end Derek McCartney said. "We know we can be great. We just have to do it every play."
Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler was the root cause as USC throttled the Buffs the past two seasons. In a 56-28 Trojans' win last season, Kessler equaled a Pac-12 mark for touchdown passes in a regulation game with seven. Five of those came in the first half, including four in the first quarter.
Although Kessler finished with a decent line of 17 for 27 for 204 yards and three TDs on Friday, the Buffs limited the Trojans to two field goals in the first half and safety Jered Bell picked him off in the second quarter.
It was no mystery to CU linebacker Kenneth Olugbode what the Buffs did to prevent Kessler from putting together another historic performance.
"Got a rush, hit him a couple times," Olugbode said. "We definitely got in his face and played tight coverage.
McCartney, one of several Buffs who wore the defeat on his sleeve, took pride in the notion that it wasn't a repeat of last season.
"Our secondary played well and it was hard for him to find open guys," McCartney said.
One of Kessler's TD passes, a 2-yarder to Taylor McNamara, was a direct result of a Buffs fumble at their own 34. Another came one play after USC blocked a Diego Gonzalez field-goal attempt and returned it to the CU 36. That one, to JuJu Smith-Schuster, put USC ahead 27-17 and was a back-breaker for the Buffs.
"It was good but it wasn't enough," Bell said. "It always comes down to the little things with us."
The Buffs limited USC to a manageable 129 yards on the ground and only 3.5 yards per carry. Tailback Justin Davis racked up 85 on 14 carries, but the Buffs were able bottle up backfield mate Ronald Jones (61 yards on 19 carries).
"I'm pretty pleased but I think we can do better," Olugbode said. "I always hold us to a higher standard."