CU vs. USC, at a glance
What went right: Despite a bad start, the Buffs rallied in the second half and gave themselves a chance to win in the end. The defense produced four turnovers and the offense made a few plays late.
What went wrong: CU's offense struggled to get much going all afternoon. The Buffs fell behind early and then failed to convert USC turnovers into points.
Turning point: After CU scored to tie the game at 14-14 with 10:20 to play, USC responded with a six-play, 71-yard touchdown drive to regain the lead and the momentum.
CU player of the game: Bryce Bobo. The junior receiver caught a career-high 10 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. He also threw a 67-yard touchdown pass - on his first career pass - to Phillip Lindsay.
Bottom line: Nobody can take away the great start the Buffs had to the season, but Saturday's loss to the Trojans proved that achieving their goal of winning the Pac-12 will not be easy.
LOS ANGELES — As the college football world took notice of the Colorado Buffaloes this week, lauding them for their impressive start and first national ranking in 11 years, the Buffs were quick to point out they still have plenty of work to do.
On Saturday, they proved it.
The 21st-ranked Buffaloes failed to capitalize on Southern California turnovers, couldn't get their offense going and left the Los Angeles Coliseum with a disappointing 21-17 defeat.
"Today is just a testament to how much work we have left," quarterback Steven Montez said. "It's a humbling experience to show that we weren't what we thought we are and we have so much work to do."
After 10 consecutive losing seasons, CU (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) has turned heads this season with its impressive start to the season, but USC (3-3, 2-2) reminded Buff Nation that winning the Pac-12 South won't be easy.
USC became the first team to slow down CU's offense, and the Trojans dominated the line of scrimmage when it mattered most.
"They got it done today and beat us," Buffs head coach Mike MacIntyre said.
The entire afternoon was a dogfight, but most disheartening to the Buffs was their inability to get the ball back in the final minutes.
CU freshman Davis Price booted a 42-yard field goal with 4 minutes, 49 seconds to cut the deficit to four, and the Buffs called upon their defense to make one last stop.
Instead, USC picked up three first downs and melted the final 4:49 off the clock.
"It's always frustrating (to not get a stop)," senior linebacker Kenneth Olugbode said. "When they put us out on the field, we're supposed to do a job. If we don't come out with a three-and-out we're upset with ourselves."
For much of the afternoon, though, the key to this one was the CU offense failing to find its way.
The Buffs have been exceptional on offense all season, especially early in games. Coming into Saturday, no team in the country had scored more first quarter points than the Buffs.
Against the Trojans, however, CU failed the score in the first half, going into intermission with a 14-0 deficit.
"(The loss) hurts a lot, but the way we came out, we can't come out like that and expect to win," said Montez, who started for the third consecutive week in place of senior Sefo Liufau. "We started extremely slow and a lot of that is on me. We have to come out a lot faster."
Despite the slow start, the CU offense was handed several great opportunities by its defense. The Buffs forced four USC turnovers (three fumbles, one interception), but the offense capitalized on just one of those.
"Four turnovers is what it was?" Montez said, shaking his head and sighing when asked about the failure to convert. "Absolutely, definitely we should have capitalized on those four."
Three of the turnovers came on USC's first three possessions of the third quarter. After the second one - a strip-sack by Addison Gillam and fumble recovery by Jordan Carrell - CU drew up a trick play to spark the offense.
Montez tossed a lateral to Bryce Bobo, who then launched a deep pass across the field to a wide open Phillip Lindsay, who raced down the sideline and broke a tackle before getting to the end zone to cut the deficit to 14-7.
Four plays later, Olugbode picked off a USC pass to set up the offense again, but Montez returned the favor with an interception of his own.
A week after shutting down Arizona State's high-powered offense with relentless pressure and blitzes, USC employed a similar strategy against the Buffs.
The Trojans registered four sacks, tipped a few of Montez's passes at the line and made him rush several throws. The freshman completed 25 of 40 throws for 197 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
What really hurt the Buffs, however, was their inability to run the ball. Aside from a couple of big plays - a 37-yard run by Lindsay and a 19-yard scramble by Montez - the Buffs had a rough day on the ground. They finished with 96 yards on 29 rushing attempts. In the first half, they had just 36 yards on 16 carries.
"When you're unable to run the ball it hurts your rhythm a little bit and I felt like in that first half we were just never able to get into a good rhythm and get a good flow," co-offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren said. "They had a nice plan. Those guys did a nice job."
CU had a chance late, though.
The Buffs put their best drive together early in the fourth quarter, capping an eight-play, 84-yard march with a 10-yard Montez-to-Bobo touchdown pass to tie the game at 14-14.
USC scored the go-ahead touchdown less than two minutes later, however, and held on from there, moving to 11-0 all-time against the Buffs.
"Somehow we have to get that off our back," MacIntyre said of the winless mark against the Trojans. "We'll do it eventually. I thought we had an opportunity to do it today, especially when the fourth quarter started, but we didn't get it done."
USC — D.Imatorbhebhe 32 pass from Darnold (Boermeester kick), 3:31Second quarter
USC — Petite 11 pass from Darnold (Boermeester kick), 3:40Third quarter
CU — Lindsay 67 pass from Bobo (Price kick), 11:23Fourth quarter
CU — Bobo 10 pass from Montez (Price kick), 10:26
USC — Petite 7 pass from Darnold (Boermeester kick), 8:28
COL — FG Price 42, 4:49
A — 68,302.CU USC First downs 20 28 Rushes-yards 29-96 43-181 Passing 275 358 Comp-Att-Int 28-44-1 25-37-1 Return Yards 35 88 Punts-Avg. 7-32.14 3-34.66 Fumbles-Lost 0-0 4-3 Penalties-Yards 5-26 2-22 Time of Possession 27:42 32:18 INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING — Colorado, Lindsay 11-57, Montez 13-25, Julmisse 1-10, Evans 1-2, Liufau 3-2. Southern Cal, J.Davis 13-83, R.Jones 10-56, Ware 8-25, Darnold 8-22, (Team) 4-(minus 5).
PASSING — Colorado, Bobo 1-1-0-67, Liufau 2-3-0-11, Montez 25-40-1-197. Southern Cal, Darnold 25-37-1-358.
RECEIVING — Colorado, Bobo 10-83, Lindsay 6-105, D.Ross 6-48, Fields 4-32, Ento 1-11, Lee 1-(minus 4). Southern Cal, Mitchell 6-63, Smith-Schuster 5-113, Burnett 5-34, Rogers 4-76, D.Imatorbhebhe 2-45, Petite 2-18, R.Jones 1-9.