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CU Buffs will try – again – to rebound from loss

Colorado takes three-game losing streak into Friday’s home date with USC

Colorado safety Mikial Onu (2) and linebacker Davion Taylor (20) attempt to catch Washington State running back Max Borghi (21) as he runs through the secondary during the second quarter of a Pac-12 Conference game on Saturday afternoon at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash.
Pete Caster/Tribune Staff Photographer
Colorado safety Mikial Onu (2) and linebacker Davion Taylor (20) attempt to catch Washington State running back Max Borghi (21) as he runs through the secondary during the second quarter of a Pac-12 Conference game on Saturday afternoon at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash.

Win or lose, turning the page from one game to the next is always a requirement for the Colorado football team.

Mounting losses and back-to-back blowout defeats makes that task a bit tougher.

“It sucks to lose,” freshman cornerback KJ Trujillo said on Saturday night after the Buffaloes’ 41-10 loss to Washington State at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. “We hate losing, but we’re on to the next one. We have to just be focused and handle business all week in practice and just be ready for next week.”

Of course, that was the message a week earlier, as well, after a 45-3 loss at Oregon, and the week before that after a 35-30 home loss to Arizona.

CU (3-4, 1-3 Pac-12) brings a three-game losing streak into Friday’s matchup with South division-leading Southern California (4-3, 3-1) at Folsom Field and the skid is magnified by the lack of competitiveness by the Buffs the last two weeks. This is the first time since the last two games of 2016 – the Pac-12 title game against Washington and Alamo Bowl against Oklahoma State – that CU has lost back-to-back games by 30-plus points. The last time it happened in the regular season was 2013.

“We’re just trying not to feel down or anything,” senior linebacker Davion Taylor said. “Just keep on pushing, look at the next game and fix the mistakes we have from this game; fix it for USC.”

Some of those mistakes are easier to fix than others. Among the most pressing issues:

  • Quarterback Steven Montez is suddenly a turnover machine. The fifth-year senior has never really been a high-interception passer. Through the first five games, he had 10 touchdowns and only two picks. The last two games, he has six interceptions (including two on Saturday) and no touchdowns. “We just need to get him right,” head coach Mel Tucker said.
  • The Buffs have been dreadful in the red zone. Laviska Shenault’s 6-yard scoring run late in the third quarter was CU’s only touchdown in its last eight trips to the red zone. They’ve scored a total of 16 points on those eight possessions.
  • Penalties weren’t a major issue against Washington State, but the seven flags thrown against the Buffs included four false starts. That’s 11 false start penalties in two games, compared to seven in the first five games. Both tackles, Arlington Hambright and William Sherman, have been flagged in three consecutive games.
  • Given the competition, the pass defense wasn’t terrible, but WSU’s Anthony Gordon, who leads the country in passing, still put up 369 yards and four touchdowns. He came in average 435.3 yards.
  • Kicker James Stefanou, who made his first 10 field goals of the season, has made one of his last four. That included a 1-for-3 night at Washington State. To be fair, the wind and rain in Pullman may have been a factor.

Perhaps the biggest issue facing the Buffs and their coaching staff, however, is the mental state of the players. Not long ago, this team was 3-1, with two wins against Top-25 opponents and a missed extra point away from being 4-0. Now, the Buffs are in the midst of a season-defining tailspin.

“As coaches, you can’t get frustrated,” Tucker said. “Frustration doesn’t help. Frustration doesn’t provide solutions. You can be upset, you can be angry, and then at some point that has to pass and you really have to hone in on the tape, grading the tape, looking at the personnel, evaluating whether it is scheme or what position guys are playing and try to find ways to get guys in better position to make plays. Try to find ways to get guys to improve, to change the behavior in order to get better performance. That is a full-time job. That is what we have to do.”


Montez has eight interceptions on the year. His career high is nine, in each of the last two seasons. … Linebacker Chase Newman was ejected for targeting while trying to block on a punt return. Because the play happened in the second half, he will have to sit out the first half of Friday’s game against the Trojans.

CU opponent glance

Opponent: Southern California Trojans

Game time: Friday, 7 p.m. at Folsom Field in Boulder


Coach: Clay Helton, 5th year (36-20)

Record: 4-3, 3-1 Pac-12

Last week: Defeated Arizona, 41-14, at home.

Notable: It’s been an up and down season for the Trojans, but they come into this game sitting in the driver’s seat in the Pac-12 South division. … USC is 4-0 at the Los Angeles Coliseum this year, and 0-3 on the road. Over the last calendar year, the Trojans are 1-5 on the road, with the only win coming at Oregon State in 2018. … Because of injuries, the Trojans have had three different starting quarterbacks, but true freshman Kedon Slovis, who has started most of the year, is expected to start against the Buffs. He’s completed 73.6 percent of his passes (103-of-140) for 1,219 yards, 9 TD and 4 INT. … The Trojans have dealt with a bunch of injuries this season, including several against Arizona that Helton said were “significant.” The list includes tailbacks Stephen Carr (hamstring) and Markese Stepp (ankle). Leading rusher Vavae Malepeai had surgery last week to clean up his knee. Freshman Kenan Christon made his debut on Saturday, rushing for 103 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries.

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