Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
With all due respect to Colorado punter Josh Watts, who has been fantastic this season, it’s never a good thing when a head coach opens a postgame press conference praising the punter as the bright spot.
That’s the state of Colorado football right now, however.
CU’s offense struggled again and this time so did the defense, as the downward spiral continued with a 37-14 loss to Southern California at Folsom Field on Saturday.
“Disappointing day, unfortunately, for us,” head coach Karl Dorrell said in what is becoming a weekly opening line. “We felt we had a good plan going into it and we didn’t even come close to getting the level of execution that we were expecting.”
The Buffs (1-4, 0-2 Pac-12) have still never defeated the Trojans, but more importantly, are struggling to beat anyone right now. The loss was CU’s fourth in a row and the Buffs have been outscored 102-27 in the last three weeks.
Coming off a blowout loss at home to Oregon State a week earlier, USC (3-2, 2-2) was never really threatened in improving to 15-0 all-time against the Buffs.
“We struggled. We struggled even on defense today,” Dorrell said. “We’ve got to get back to work; a lot of work to do. A lot of things to shore up. There’s a lot of different areas, as you guys well know, and we’ll get back to work.”
All of CU’s work to this point hasn’t paid off, as losses pile up and fans grow restless. Even on a beautiful October afternoon, many of the 48,197 fans in attendance headed for the exits early.
“We compete every week, but we’ve just got to put it all together man,” safety Mark Perry said. “We’ve got to put it all together at once. Defense has got to go out and play our tails off and the offense has to come out and do the same.”
Typically this season, the defense has played well, but on Saturday, both sides of the ball had their issues.
USC finished with 494 yards of offense, powering through the CU defense behind quarterback Kedon Slovis (276 yards, three touchdowns), receiver Drake London (nine catches for 130 yards) and running back Keaontay Ingram (124 rushing yards).
The Trojans took what seemed like an insurmountable 10-0 lead with a Slovis-to-London 1-yard touchdown pass with 1:59 to go in the first quarter. London shook off good coverage from CU’s Christian Gonzalez to make a one-handed grab for the score.
After CU’s third punt in three possessions, USC made it 17-0 when Slovis found Michael Trigg for a 46-yard touchdown pass. A fourth CU punt, in four possessions, was followed by a 44-yard field goal from Parker Lewis to make it 20-0.
The Trojans added 17 more points in the first 16 minutes of the second half.
“They didn’t do anything special,” Perry said. “They beat us in football. So we just have to find a way to get things right and get this thing rolling.”
Offensively, that’s been a struggle all season. Saturday was a relatively productive day for the offense, though.
Freshman quarterback Brendon Lewis threw for a career-high 162 yards and tossed a touchdown pass, but he was also picked off and lost a fumble. Tight end Brady Russell had a career-high 87 receiving yards – the best total for any CU player this year – and Jarek Broussard led the Buffs with 68 rushing yards.
Backup running back Deion Smith scored the Buffs’ first touchdown, to cut the deficit to 20-7 before halftime. Freshman Chase Penry caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Lewis in the third quarter to pull the Buffs within 30-14.
The other 10 possessions ended with seven punts, a failed fourth-down conversation and two turnovers.
“We have to find what we do best and really kind of hang our hat with everything, whether it’s: What’s our best runs? What’s our best passes? What’s our best protections? What’s the best thing for Brendon Lewis?,” Dorrell said. “We’re already thinking that way but apparently we have to really assess all of that again this week and try to figure out what we can do best. There’s definitely some issues that we need to address and fix as we move forward here.”
Those issues have continued to keep the Buffs from being competitive in recent weeks.
“I mean, yeah, when you come out and you’re consistently getting three-and-outs and barely draining time of the clock, it can be very frustrating,” Broussard said. “But all you could do is stick to the script and play hard.”
Patience is running thin with the current script, however. The Buffs have shown minor progress each of the last two games, but with a bye this week, Dorrell knows the jump has to be a big one before an Oct. 16 matchup with Arizona.
“We can’t be talking about baby steps like that anymore,” Dorrell said. “The pacifier or the binky is gonna have to go. That’s got to go. We’ve got to grow up fast. We got to go. And there’s only so long you can take those incremental steps like you’re saying. We’re at that point right now this season, it’s in the balance right now. We have to make a marketable improvement this week.”
Southern California 37, Colorado 14
Play of the game: USC receiver Drake London made a one-handed grab for the first touchdown of the game in the first quarter. The Trojans’ star was blanketed by CU’s Christian Gonzalez much of the day, but made several highlight-reel plays.
Turning point: London’s touchdown gave the Trojans a 10-0 lead, and while almost 47 minutes remained in the game, it felt like a game-sealing score. CU then punted on its next possession and USC scored five plays after that to make it 17-0.
Top 3 Buffs of the game
1. TE Brady Russell: His 65-yard catch in the third quarter was the longest pass play for CU in two years, and it set up a touchdown. He finished with three catches for 87 yards.
2. S Mark Perry: Finished with a team-high 10 tackles and recovered a fumble.
3. P Josh Watts: Posted a 49.6-yard average on seven punts. Four of his punts traveled at least 51 yards and he landed two inside the 20-yard line.
USC 37, Colorado 14
Southern Cal 10 10 10 7 — 37
Colorado 0 7 7 0 — 14
USC — FG P.Lewis 30, 5:57.
USC — London 1 pass from Slovis (P.Lewis kick), 1:59.
USC — Trigg 46 pass from Slovis (P.Lewis kick), 11:04.
USC — FG P.Lewis 44, 6:41.
COLO — D.Smith 1 run (Becker kick), 1:02.
USC — FG P.Lewis 49, 10:40.
USC — Malepeai 2 run (P.Lewis kick), 6:52.
COLO — Penry 7 pass from B.Lewis (Becker kick), 5:18.
USC — Bryant 15 pass from Slovis (P.Lewis kick), 14:08.
A — 48,197.
First downs 20 11
Total Net Yards 494 242
Rushes-yards 35-218 39-80
Passing 276 162
Punt Returns 5-35 1-7
Kickoff Returns 0-0 1-15
Interceptions Ret. 1-0 0-0
Comp-Att-Int 19-29-0 10-17-1
Sacked-Yards Lost 0-0 5-25
Punts 3-43.0 7-49.571
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties-Yards 12-125 7-79
Time of Possession 31:24 28:36
RUSHING — Southern Cal, Ingram 14-124, Barlow 10-61, Malepeai 10-36, (Team) 1-(minus 3). Colorado, Broussard 16-68, Fontenot 6-12, D.Smith 7-12, Arias 1-1, B.Lewis 9-(minus 13).
PASSING — Southern Cal, Slovis 19-29-0-276. Colorado, B.Lewis 10-17-1-162.
RECEIVING — Southern Cal, London 9-130, Washington 3-46, Trigg 2-51, Bryant 2-21, Ingram 1-15, Epps 1-10, Malepeai 1-3. Colorado, Russell 3-87, Stanley 2-16, Arias 1-18, Rice 1-17, Fontenot 1-9, D.Smith 1-8, Penry 1-7.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — None.