LOS ANGELES — USC is preparing for its second road game of the season Saturday, against Colorado in Boulder. But if we’ve learned anything through four weeks this season, it’s that the opponent doesn’t matter.
What really matters is which version of USC (2-2, 1-2 in Pac-12) shows up any given weekend.
Is it the one that limited mistakes and fought through adversity to beat Washington State? Or the one that compounded errors and folded as soon as the going got tough against Oregon State and Stanford?
It’s this unpredictability that makes USC such a confounding team this season. On the one hand, the Trojans clearly have the talent advantage on both sides of the ball to make them seem like a no-brainer choice to cover the 7.5-point betting line.
On the other, doesn’t “first USC team to ever lose to Colorado” seem like a definite possibility with this version of the Trojans?
Interim head coach Donte Williams has felt encouraged by what he’s seen at practice, praising his players for flying around at practice, and being engaged and asking questions during team meetings.
But asked what he wants to see different this weekend from USC’s trip to Washington State, in which the Trojans fell behind 14-0 in the second quarter, Williams’ answer hinted at the concerns of what happens if the Trojans take a hit early in the game.
“I want to start fast,” Williams said. “Shoot, the second half, we played pretty decent football. But the first half was not of the standard. Any little things or tweaks where I can get these guys to come out in the first half like they did in the second. Just continue that.”
When USC has the ball
There’s been a lot of scrutiny on quarterback Kedon Slovis since backup Jaxson Dart shined against Washington State. Some criticisms have been fair, as Slovis has been indecisive this season. Others ignore the fact that USC lacks a true second receiver behind Drake London and has had to abandon the run game when falling behind the past three weeks.
Against Colorado, Williams would like to see a simple improvement from his quarterback.
“Definitely just pull the trigger. We have all the trust in Kedon. I believe he has all the trust in us,” Williams said. “Just go out there and just play football back to how it was as he’s comfortable in the offense.”
While London is leading the nation with 540 receiving yards, the Trojans have only one other receiver who has gained more than 100 yards – Memphis transfer Tahj Washington has 175 on the season.
Washington, however, struggled with drops in Week 4, including a bobbled pass that turned into a first-quarter interception. Receivers coach Keary Colbert showed Washington a series of clips this past week of NFL receivers dropping passes to help Washington move past the mistakes.
“Any wide receiver that has played the game, it’s happened. So it’s not an issue,” Colbert said. “We just continue to come out here, focus on our details, and we’ve got another opportunity to make it right this weekend.”
When Colorado has the ball
The Buffaloes (1-3, 0-1) have struggled offensively lately, totaling 20 points across the past three weekends, all of which ended in losses. This likely stems from having a passing offense that ranks 128th out of 130 FBS teams with just 85.0 yards per game, ahead of only Army and Navy, which each run the triple-option offense.
Where Colorado compensates (a little) is with a run offense that averages 154 yards per game, with three running backs gaining four yards per carry.
USC’s run defense has been inconsistent, giving up an average of 157.5 yards per game including last weekend’s 322-yard performance by Oregon State.
This week at practice, USC has experimented with moving 6-foot-7, 390-pound offensive lineman Maximus Gibbs to defensive tackle, a position where USC has struggled with depth this season.
“I just felt that we needed to get a little bigger in the trenches,” Williams said. “And the things he’s able to do is, I don’t know anybody that can move him. So if you have somebody on your team that nobody can move, you’ve got to give him a shot.”
USC at Colorado
When: Saturday, 11 a.m. PT
Where: Folsom Field, Boulder, Colorado
TV/Radio: Pac-12 Network / 790 AM
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