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Amon-Ra St. Brown #8 of the ...
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USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown

Buffaloes scouting report

Head coach: Mel Tucker, 1st season (3-4)

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

Last week: Lost at Washington State, 41-10

Key players on offense

  • RB Alex Fontenot, So., 6-0, 195: 114 att., 568 yards, 4 TD
  • QB Steven Montez, Sr., 6-5, 230: 153-of-240, 1,723 yards, 10 TD, 8 INT
  • WR Laviska Shenault, Jr., 6-2, 220: 25 catches, 342 yards, 2 TD; rush: 12 att., 82 yards, 2 TD

Key players on defense

  • ILB Nate Landman, Jr., 6-3, 230: 85 tackles, 3 TFL, 9 third-down stops
  • DE Terrance Lang, So., 6-7, 280: 21 tackles, 3 sacks, 8 QB pressures
  • S Mikial Onu, Sr., 5-11, 205: 44 tackles, 4 INT, 2 forced fumbles

CU offense: The Buffaloes have had a head-scratching two weeks, as their talented offense has mustered just 13 total points and one touchdown in back-to-back blowout losses. The run game has been solid and hitting stride with Alex Fontenot and Jaren Mangham, but the Buffs have not had a rushing touchdown by a running back since the opening drive at Arizona State – four games ago. More than anything, the Buffs have to get Steven Montez going. The senior quarterback has had two consecutive rough outings, with six interceptions and no touchdowns and he’s been off target on several passes. The success of the Buffs’ offense on Friday night will be determined by Montez.

CU defense: Injuries have hit the Buffs hard on this side of ball, and then they surprisingly had a veteran, safety Aaron Maddox, leave the team this past week. Not surprisingly, the Buffs’ have struggled on defense. They are last in the Pac-12 in average points (34.9), total yards (482.4) and passing yards (316.0) allowed per game. They’re also last in average yards per rush (4.9) and opponent third-down conversion rate (49.5 percent). No Pac-12 team has given up more red zone touchdowns than CU (18), and only Arizona has had fewer sacks than the Buffs’ 11. CU has, however, played well in spurts and some of the young players are gaining confidence through experience.

CU special teams: It’s been a rough two weeks for kicker James Stefanou. After starting the year 10-for-10 on field goals, including one early in the loss to Oregon on Oct. 11, he’s made just one of his last four. He wasn’t badly off the mark on any of the misses, but the Buffs do need him to get back on track. Punter Alex Kinney continues to shine – and he’s gotten a lot of work lately – moving up to second in the Pac-12 in yards per punt (45.0). He’s got eight punts of 50 yards or more, which ranks second in the conference.

CU keys to beating USC

Find Montez’s confidence: Head coach Mel Tucker said this week he didn’t see a lack of confidence from the senior QB this week, which is good. Montez did not look confident against Washington State and it showed in his play. A confident Montez is often a good Montez.

Pound the ball on the ground: The Buffs’ run game has been better in recent weeks, but they go away from it at odd times (such as in the red zone). When Alex Fontenot and Jaren Mangham are on a roll, the Buffs need to keep feeding them.

Pressure on Slovis: USC has arguably the best receiving corps in the conference (if not the country) and three Trojans rank among the top eight in catches per game. Meanwhile, the Buffs have a young, injury-depleted secondary that gives up a lot of production through the air. To limit that, the Buffs need their front seven to play well and make USC freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis uncomfortable.

Win the turnover battle: Tucker reiterated this week that turnover margin is one of the top indicators of success in college football. The first five games, when the Buffs went 3-2 and nearly the won the two they lost, they had a plus-8 turnover margin and won the turnover battle four times. The past two weeks, they are minus-6, with only one takeaway.

Buffs notables

  • CU’s defense generated 10 takeaways in the first three games of the season, but only three in the last four (all conference games).  Since the start of the 2017 seasons, the Buffs have had 24 takeaways in nine non-conference games (2.7 per game) and 18 in 22 Pac-12 games (0.8 per game).
  • Junior receiver KD Nixon comes into this week needing seven receiving yards to reach 1,000 for his career.
  • CU is 19-26 all-time on Friday games, including 5-8 in Boulder. They are 0-3 against USC on Fridays, however.
  • The Buffs have allowed at least 30 points in 12 consecutive games, dating back to a 27-13 loss at Washington.
  • Linebacker Nate Landman is second in the Pac-12 at 10.6 tackles per game, with 74 in seven games (based off stats taken during games in the press box). CU’s official stats, recorded by coaches, have Landman with 85 tackles (12.1 per game).

Trojans scouting report

Head coach: Clay Helton, 5th season (36-20)

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

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

Key players on offense

  • WR Michael Pittman Jr., Sr., 6-4, 200: 43 catches, 599 yards, 5 TD
  • QB Kedon Slovis, Fr., 6-2, 200: 103-of-140, 1,219 yards, 9 TD, 4 INT
  • WR Tyler Vaughns, Jr., 6-2, 190: 42 catches, 534 yards, 4 TD

Key players on defense

  • CB Olaijah Griffin, So., 6-0, 170: 20 tackles, 6 pass  breakups
  • LB John Houston Jr., Sr., 6-3, 220: 61 tackles, 6 TFL, 2 sacks
  • DT Jay Tufele, So., 6-3, 305: 22 tackles, 4 TFL, 2.5 sacks

USC offense: CU isn’t the only team dealing with injuries. The Trojans are playing with a backup quarterback and a fourth-string running back, but still put 41 points on the board against Arizona last week and have players in place to light up the scoreboard this week. They’re also about as balanced as possible, with 238 of their plays being passes and 235 being runs. Slovis may have come into the year as the backup but the freshman, who will make his sixth start on Friday, seems to be gaining confidence and he ranks sixth nationally in completion percentage (73.6). He’s benefited from having the Pac-12’s best receiving corps. Pittman, Vaughns and sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown are among the best in the conference, and all are dangerous at any time. On the ground, injuries forced freshman Kenan Christon into his first action last week and he rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries.

Amon-Ra St. Brown #8 of the ...
Harry How/Getty Images
USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown

USC defense: Injuries have hit the Trojans on this side of the ball, as well, and they will play this game without several of their best defenders. They’re coming off a game, however, in which they held Arizona scoreless for three quarters. USC has been vulnerable against the run, ranking 11th in the Pac-12 in allowing 189.3 rushing yards per game. The pass defense has been much better, as they typically have the athletes in the secondary to compete with most receivers. They also have a good pass rush that has generated 21 sacks (second in the Pac-12).

USC special teams: Chase McGrath is one of only six kickers in the country that has been perfect on the season (8-for-8 on field goals, 27-for-27 on extra points). His long on the season is 52 yards. Punter Ben Griffiths has been solid (41.4 yards per punt). In the return game, Velus Jones is averaging 25.0 yards, including a 100-yard touchdown.

USC keys to beating CU

Slovis staying poised: The freshman QB threw three interceptions in his first career road start, Sept. 14 at BYU, and the Trojans lost that game. He has one interception the rest of the year, however, and is typically on target with his throws. If he stays poised, he and his talented receivers can have a big day.

Avoid the trap: Next weekend, the Trojans have a big game against Oregon – a matchup that could be a preview of the Pac-12 title game. They have to focus on CU first, though. If the Trojans aren’t focused, CU can burn them.

Take care of the football: USC’s turnover margin of minus-5 is the worst in the Pac-12, but the turnovers have come in bunches. They had four in barely beating Fresno State and three each in losses to BYU and Washington. When they’ve taken care of the ball, they’ve typically won.

Rattle Montez: Colorado’s senior quarterback is in the midst of the worst two-game stretch of his career. If the Trojans can put pressure on him and force him into bad throws early, it could be another long night for Montez.

Trojans notables

  • USC is 4-0 at home this year and 0-3 on the road. The Trojans, however, have won six consecutive road games when coming in as a double-digit favorite, and that includes their 2015 and 2017 trips to Boulder. The Trojans are 13.5-point favorites in this game.
  • Since 1990, the Trojans have played 11 times on Fridays, going 9-2.
  • Freshman tailback Kenan Christon, who was fourth string until a recent rash of injuries, was the California state high school champion in the 100- and 200-meter dashes last spring. He has clocked 10.3 seconds in the 100 and 20.55 in the 200.
  • USC tight end Josh Falo is the younger brother of CU linebacker Nu’umotu Falo Jr.
  • The father of USC receiver Michael Pittman Jr., is former NFL running back Michael Pittman, who wrapped up his 11-year career as a member of the Denver Broncos in 2008.

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