Usually the game-breaking plays that occur on special teams go against the Colorado Buffaloes.
There still was some of that on display Saturday during CU's 38-24 loss against USC, as a pair of blocked field goals dampened the Buffs' second-half comeback bid. But for once the Buffs also were able to turn the tide with a big special teams play of their own, and freshman linebacker Nate Landman was right in the middle of it.
Just after the Buffs finally dented the scoreboard while facing a 27-0 deficit, Landman blocked a USC punt that teammate Kyle Trego returned to the one-yard line. The play led to a touchdown dive by Phillip Lindsay and briefly reclaimed the momentum for a Buffs team that appeared on the verge of getting embarrassed in the home finale.
Though Andrew Bergner was credited with a blocked punt when he tipped an attempt by Texas State earlier this season, Landman's play was the first full block of an opponent's punt by a CU player since Doug Rippy blocked a pair at Toledo in 2009.
"I just saw my opportunity and I took it," Landman said. "Coach (Dan) DaPrato, our special teams coordinator, he gives us a great plan every week and I was just able to execute it. It felt great. Coach always talks about playing for the team, and by doing that I felt like I gave my team a fine shot. It felt great."
Landman's play helped the Buffs cut USC's lead to two touchdowns, a margin they were able to reach on two other occasions as the back-and-forth second half wore on without getting any closer. The comeback might have had sturdier legs beneath it if not for a pair of field goal attempts off the foot of James Stefanou that were blocked by the Trojans.
The 30-year old freshman from Australia entered the game with a superb 16-for-18 mark on the season, with one of those misses coming from beyond 50 yards. That changed when Stefanou suffered his first block late in the first half on a 47-yard attempt that would have trimmed the Trojans' early lead to 14-3. With a chance to cut USC's lead to 21-3 at the end of the opening drive of the second half, Stefanou's 37-yard attempt also was blocked.
Stefanou rebounded to knock down a 39-yarder early in the fourth quarter, but the previous misses combined with the pick-six interception thrown by Steven Montez proved to be too many lost points for the Buffs to overcome.
"I'll have to look at the film and see what happened and try to correct it in two weeks time," Stefanou said. "They're important kicks and I try to make them all. The second one, that felt different. For the first time all year really it didn't feel good at all. I'll see what I did and work to be better. Even when you make them, it's one kick at a time. The fact I missed two, I went and cleared my head and went made a big kick for the team. I was happy I came back on that last one like that."