Buffaloes scouting report
Head coach: Karl Dorrell, 2nd season (5-5; 40-32 career)
2021 Record: 1-3, 0-1 Pac-12
Last week: Lost at Arizona State, 35-13
5 Players to Watch
- RB Jarek Broussard, So.: Currently leads CU in rushing (188 yards), but hasn’t had a big game yet this season. He’s had 29 carries for 94 yards in the last three games combined.
- CB Christian Gonzalez, Fr.: Could find himself spending much of the day trying to cover USC star receiver Drake London.
- QB Brendon Lewis, Fr.: The Buffs continue to wait for him to have a breakout game as a passer, but he’s made some plays with his feet.
- TE Brady Russell, Jr.: As CU tries to get the passing game going, he could be a key target for Lewis.
- OLB Carson Wells, Jr.: His ability to get pressure on the quarterback will be important for the Buffs. He got his first sack of the season two weeks ago.
CU offense: It’s not good when a 13-point, 250-yard performance last week is a significant improvement, but that’s the nature of the Buffs’ offense at this point. The run game, led by Jarek Broussard and Alex Fontenot, has been solid for the most part, but the passing game has been almost non-existent. CU ranks among the bottom 10 in the country in points, total yards, first downs, passing yards and pass efficiency. “We’re getting a lot of trial by fire, but I see improvement week-to-week; I really have,” offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini said. “We’re developing this offense. It is young in a lot of places and even though we have some veteran pieces, when you have a young quarterback and some young pieces around him, it’s gonna take some time.”
CU defense: Overall, the Buffs have been good on defense, but they’ve been under a lot of stress with the offense unable to produce. In the last two weeks, the Buffs have given up 32.5 points and 440.0 yards per game. Significant penalties hurt the Buffs last week, and they also haven’t been able to force many turnovers. “Their body of work, for the most part, has been more positive than negative but the negatives that are killing us right now are the penalties,” head coach Karl Dorrell said. “And, we’ve got to continue to fix a lot of things from relating the front and coverage issues with our linebackers in our secondary. I believe we’re doing the right things defensively. We just have to really tighten down the screws and maybe even minimize the packages some so that everybody knows how to make the right adjustments.”
CU special teams: Freshman kicker Cole Becker was finally able to experience success on field goals, hitting a pair last week after starting 0-for-3. The Buffs have a lot of confidence in him going forward. Punter Josh Watts continues to excel, averaging 48.54 yards per punt. He’s had 10 punts over 50 yards. Brenden Rice is averaging 25.8 yards on kickoff returns and Dimitri Stanley is averaging 12.4 yards on punt returns.
CU keys to victory
Get Lewis going: This has been a key for a few weeks. Lewis has thrown for 105, 89, 55 and 67 yards this season and the Buffs need a breakout game from him to beat the Trojans.
Jump on them early: Riding a three-game losing streak and struggling on offense, the Buffs could get a significant boost from a strong start. The Buffs have scored in just one of four first quarters so far this year.
Force mistakes and capitalize on them: So far, the Buffs have forced only two turnovers, with none in the last two games. USC has lost nine turnovers. Forcing a couple of turnovers and turning them into points will be important for the Buffs.
- This will be Karl Dorrell’s first time facing USC as CU’s head coach, but he has seen the Trojans a lot in his career. As a player at UCLA, he went 3-1 against the Trojans. As Bruins head coach from 2003-07, he went 1-4 against them.
- There have not been any plays of at least 40 yards in a CU game yet this season. CU’s longest play of the year was a 35-yard run by Ashaad Clayton. The longest play by an opponent was a 39-yard pass by Minnesota.
- In nine games since the start of 2020, CU linebacker Nate Landman has 103 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss and 13 tackles for zero yards.
- CU has finished with less than 100 passing yards in three consecutive games for the first time since 1989, when the Buffs ran the option. CU hasn’t had four consecutive sub-100-yard passing games since 1985, the year Bill McCartney switched the offense to the wishbone.
- Linebacker Nate Landman and cornerbacks Mekhi Blackmon and Christian Gonzalez were named captains for this game.
Trojans scouting report
Head coach: Donte Williams, 1st season (interim, 1-1)
2021 Record: 2-2, 1-2 Pac-12
Last week: Lost at home to Oregon State, 45-27
5 Players to Watch
- RB Keaontay Ingram, Sr.: Leads the Trojans in rushing with 225 yards and three touchdowns on 46 carries.
- OLB Drake Jackson, Jr.: One of the best defenders in the Pac-12, he’s recorded 13 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and one interception this season.
- WR Drake London, Jr.: Leads the country in receptions (39) and receiving yards (540) and he’s scored three touchdowns.
- QB Kedon Slovis, Jr.: Shaky season for him so far, but he’s completed 64.3 percent of his passes (83-of-129) for 842 yards, 4 TD and 4 INT. In 2019, he threw for 406 yards and four TD in a win against the Buffs.
- DL Tuli Tuipulotu, So.: Leads the Trojans with 21 tackles this season. He has also had a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery.
USC offense: The Trojans are scoring 32.5 points per game but have been held under 30 in both losses. Quarterback Kedon Slovis, who was first-team All-Pac-12 last year, has been up and down this year, but he does have one of the best receivers in the country in Drake London. The search for a reliable second option is ongoing, however. Keaontay Ingram and Vavae Malepeai are both talented, experienced backs, but the Trojans rank 108th nationally in rushing. “I think they have a really explosive offense,” CU linebacker Jack Lamb said. “They’re gonna pass first, but they’re gonna try to open up that run game with the pass, so just being able to plug everything up and be sound (is important).”
USC defense: Over the last three weeks, the Trojans have struggled, giving up 101 points, including at least 42 in two of the three games. The Trojans rank 86th in pass efficiency defense and 84th against the run. They’ve also generated a Pac-12-worst three sacks. The run defense has been a point of emphasis. “A lot of it comes from alignments,” interim head coach Donte Williams said. “It’s not like guys were getting blown 10 yards off the ball. It was some alignment issues, some gap fit issues and (opponents) did a good job of building gaps. We made sure we addressed those things and made sure we simplified the game plan, so multiple guys can play, multiple guys can play fast and there’s no hesitation.”
USC special teams: Kicker Parker Lewis is 6-for-6 on field goals this season and 15-for-19 in his career. He’s also perfect (35-for-35) on extra points in his career. Punter Ben Griffiths ranks 17th nationally in average (46.3) after posting a 46.4 average a year ago. The Trojans haven’t had a lot of return opportunities, but Gary Bryant Jr. averaged 25.0 yards on kickoff returns and 10.5 yards on punt returns.
USC keys to victory
Start fast, stay fast: Given CU’s struggles, USC can get a mental edge with an early lead and staying focused on the task all afternoon.
Stop the run: The Trojans’ run defense has struggled this season, especially last week when Oregon State put up 322 yards on the ground. CU’s strength on offense is the run, so the Trojans could look to stop that first.
Avoid mistakes: USC is tied for 10th in the Pac-12 with nine turnovers on offense and they rank 10th with 7.3 penalties per game. Playing a relatively clean football game will be important.
- Leading rusher Keaontay Ingram transferred to USC from Texas, where he ran for 1,811 yards and 11 touchdowns in three years, while also catching 67 passes.
- This is the third time in nine years that USC will finish a season with an interim head coach. In 2013, USC fired Lane Kiffin after a 3-2 start and went 7-2 the rest of the way. In 2015, the Trojans fired Steve Sarkisian after a 3-2 start and Clay Helton went 5-4 to finish the year. After a 1-1 start this year, Helton was fired and the Trojans are 1-1 since.
- In an effort to improve the run defense, the Trojans moved 6-foot-7, 390-pound offensive lineman Max Gibbs to defense this week. “I just felt that we needed to get a little bigger in the trenches,” Donte Williams said. “If you have somebody on your team that nobody can move, you’ve gotta give him a shot.”
- USC has scored in a school-record 282 consecutive games, not counting 15 games vacated by an NCAA penalty. Counting those, the Trojans have scored in 297 consecutive games dating back to 1997.
- Although just 1-2 in conference play this year, the Trojans have won seven consecutive Pac-12 road games – at seven different locations. The streak began with a 35-31 win in Boulder in 2019.