John McCoy / Getty Images
John McCoy / Getty Images North America
John McCoy / Getty Images North America
USC 31, Colorado 20
Play of the game: Late in the second quarter, USC quarterback J.T. Daniels connected with veteran receiver Michael Pittman, who made a great catch over the Buffs’ Davion Taylor and went 65 yards for a touchdown. That gave USC the lead for good at 14-7.
Turning point: It was a 7-7 game before Pittman’s 65-yard touchdown. Following that score, the Buffs’ offense went three-and-out, and USC went on another scoring march. Those two touchdowns in a span of just 2 minutes, 23 seconds, changed the game.
Top 3 Buffs of the game
1. WR Laviska Shenault: Although he left the game with a toe injury and had couple of key drops, he also was CU’s main spark on offense, with 118 yards and a touchdown.
2. DL Mustafa Johnson: Finished with five tackles, one sack and 1.5 tackles for loss, leading a stellar CU effort against the run.
3. P Davis Price: He was busy, with nine punts for 377 yards. His 41.9-yard average wasn’t great, but he had a 55-yarder and pinned USC inside of its 20 four times.
CU has some work to do if it wants to make a run at the Pac-12 South title. The Buffs also need some help, since USC now has the tie-breaker. For now, CU can’t worry about the division title. It has to get healthy first, and then figure out how to play better in a rough road test in Seattle next week.
LOS ANGELES – Nearly everyone else had vacated the Colorado locker room by the time Laviska Shenault slowly made his way out a few minutes past midnight.
A man of few words when things are going well, the sophomore had even less to say as he grabbed his postgame meal and limped to the team bus.
“I’ll be all right,” he quietly said.
Shenault – and the Buffs in general – are hoping for a speedy recovery this next week after they were beat up in a 31-20 loss to Southern California at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Saturday night.
The 19th-ranked Buffaloes (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) were dealt their first loss of the season by the host Trojans (4-2, 3-1), who seized control of the South division and improved to 13-0 all-time against CU.
The nation’s leading receiver and a Heisman Trophy candidate, Shenault had 118 yards in total offense and scored a touchdown, but sat out the fourth quarter with a toe injury.
Receiver Jay MacIntyre, running back Travon McMillian and defensive lineman Jace Franke also suffered injuries for the Buffs, who have no time to hang their heads with a trip to No. 7 Washington coming up next weekend.
“I’ve got to do a better job with them,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “We have to keep working and keep going. It’s definitely disappointing. We didn’t play as well as we’d like, but USC had a lot to do with that. They played pretty well.”
Coming in with the Pac-12’s No. 3 scoring offense, at 37.8 points per game, the Buffs had a rough night.
With the exception of Shenault’s latest highlight – a 49-yard sprint through the USC defense for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead – the Buffs got nothing going on offense until it was too late.
CU finished with 265 yards on 84 plays, with more than 100 of those yards coming on a pair of fourth quarter touchdown drives.
“They knew what we were going to do,” said quarterback Steven Montez, who completed just 26 of his 47 passes for 170 yards and an interception. “They kind of had us figured out. When we had some good calls going, we would shoot ourselves in the foot with a bunch of different penalties. I think we just have to clean it up.”
It wasn’t an easy fix on Saturday.
Offensively, the Buffs struggled to run the ball and couldn’t get much going in the passing game.
Defensively, CU shut down the Trojans’ run game and played fairly well overall, but USC true freshman J.T. Daniels exploited the Buffs’ secondary with three second-quarter touchdown passes, two of them to Michael Pittman.
“We gave up too many big plays on the pass,” MacIntyre said. “A couple of fundamental errors that we have to keep working on.
“(Daniels) put the ball on the money. We were right there on a couple of them and didn’t make a play on the ball or had interference.”
It was a rough start for Daniels, who threw two first-quarter interceptions, including getting picked off by Drew Lewis on the first play of the game. After both interceptions, the CU offense went three-and-out.
“It’s always frustrating and I know they’re working their tails off,” Lewis said. “I can’t say anything negative about the offense, but those are the kind of plays where it would help a lot if we were to get some points off of it. Those are what really change the game.”
Instead, it was Daniels’ ability to shake off those interceptions that was game changing, as his three touchdown passes gave USC a 21-7 lead at the half.
Late in the third quarter, the Trojans added to the lead. On third-and-21 from the 9-yard line, Montez had a pass hit off Shenault’s hand into the arms of Ajene Harris, who trotted six yards to the end zone for a 28-7 lead.
It was the third career interception return for touchdown for Harris, who also had one against Montez and the Buffs a year ago in Boulder.
CU did add a pair of touchdowns in the final seven minutes to make the score look more respectable, but left the Coliseum eager to turn the page.
“We’re not going to take this loss as a negative,” linebacker Nate Landman said. “We’ll take it as a positive, move forward and learn from our mistakes. I think this loss will make us a better team, bring us closer and have us working harder for next week.”