Trojans come back and corral Golden Buffaloes to avoid upset, 27-24
Boulder, Colorado (Friday, November 13) – Despite losing starting QB Sefo Liufau to a leg injury late in the first period, Colorado led the favored USC Trojans by as much as 17-3 in the first half, but a fumble recovery by the Trojans in the third period resulted in a lead change as the visitors from “Troy” halted the final Buffalo drive to secure a closer than expected victory, 27-24. CU Frosh QB Cade Apsay started adequately in Liufau’s place, but struggled later in the game. Christian Powell’s fumble recovered by Trojan DL Antwan Woods at the Colorado 34 resulted in Cody Kessler’s scoring strike to Taylor McNamara in the back of the end zone for a 20-17 USC lead. For CFF.com, it was our first game at Colorado’s Folsom Field thanks to Colorado Sports Information Director Dave Plati who invited me to watch the game from up in Press Row. It was only the second time attending a CU game since last time Dave invited us out to add both the Buffaloes and Colorado State Rams back in 2006 when we saw the two square off in The Rocky Mountain Showdown held at then Invesco Stadium (now Sports Authority Stadium we noted on our trip to Colorado Springs this weekend), and the fifth time we saw the Trojans but first time we saw them play somewhere other than The Meadowlands or at Penn State ( a USC-UCLA game is as a must-see at LA Coliseum some time in CFF’s future).
USC got on the board first with Alex Wood’s 22-yard Field goal. The Buffaloes pressured Kessler (17 of 27 for 204 yards, 3 TDs/1 INT) to stifle the next Trojan possession. A 20-yard pass from Liufau to Patrick Carr put the Buffs in position for Phillip Lindsay’s four-yard TD run to give CU a 7-3 lead. Liufau (6 of 8 for 94 yards) completed a 36-yard pass to Nelson Spruce (7 catches, 94 yards, 1 TD) who hauled it in at the SC 29. Two plays later, Liufau was sacked and the first period ended, but little did anyone know that we’d seen the last of Liufau for the evening.
The drive continued nowhere to start the second period as Apsay was sacked on his first play before CU punted. However, a Jered Bell interception of a Kessler pass returned 19 yards put the Buffs back on offense at the USC 26. From the nine, Apsay drilled a pass to the diving Spruce on a slant pattern over the middle to give the senior wide receiver his 22nd career TD to tie a school record and give the home team a surprising 14-3 lead. Inspired, DE Jimmie Gilbert sacked Kessler on SC’s next series and forced another Trojan punt after a three-and –out. A shovel pass to Donovan Lee provided CU a key first down to continue a drive that resulted in Diego Gonzalez’s 28-yard FG to put the Buffs up 17-3 with their second team QB seemingly in control. At Denver Metro Airport earlier that day, we heard locals laughing and telling arriving USC fans that their team wasn’t going to get much of a game from the Colorado Buffaloes. Maybe some more of the locals should fill the empty seats among the 37,905 in attendance and see what’s going on with the Colorado University football program under Mike McIntyre. The third-year HC seems to be making some positive progress. According to Saturday’s Denver Post, CU Athletic Director Rick George confirmed McIntyre will be back next season despite 10-24, 2-22 overall and conference records. The coach, however, committed a faux pas of his own making right before the first half ended. The Trojans attempted a 46-yard FG and the Buffs blocked it – all for naught! McIntyre called time-out just before the ball was snapped! To this day, it’s a horrible strategy for one reason. He gave the Trojans a second chance and Wood converted as time expired. The Buffs led at halftime, 17-6, instead of 17-3. Had the block stood it would have been demoralizing for the Trojans rather than giving them three more points to build on. Would the game have been played differently in the second half had the score been different. Hard to say, but it would have at least killed any small amount of momentum the Trojans picked up from it. Would it make a difference in the final score?
It was a cool, pleasant, windless night. Could’ve been anywhere, but at halftime I realized I had to be in Colorado! After the CU band performed, for the first time ever, I watched snowboarding as halftime entertainment! A short, snow slope with a rail from the end zone stand to my right were rigged up to watch young athletes purposely fall on their heines! The only one who seemed charged up by all the performers falling on their backsides was the over-exuberant announcer hosting the performance. I was somewhat disappointed that the USC Trojan Marching Band, who accompanied the team, did not perform after Colorado’s Marching band. No, I wasn’t charged up to hear them play “Fight on!” though I admit that song does fire me up against them from memories growing up a Notre Dame fan. I was disappointed because they brought along their dancing Song Girls and I couldn’t get a good view of them from where I sat down to my far left. I could have gotten a much better view from Row 2 in Press Row sitting high above the 45 yard line had they come out to do some of their routines at midfield. There are some college football traditions that are must-see whether you’re a fan of a particular team or not! Snowboarding? Where are our college football priorities going?
A sack of Apsay on CU’s first series showed where the momentum was swinging as the loss of ten yards forced a quick Colorado punt. The Trojan’s got the running game going with the one-two punch of Ronald Jones II and Justin Davis getting them down to the CU seven before a Buffalo offsides penalty. Kessler threw a four-yard TD pass to Jahleel Pinner on the right side of the end zone to cut the CU lead down, 17-13. Lee’s return out to the 37 seemed like a good starting point for the Buffs to mount a new scoring drive. However, Powell’s fumble gave SC the ball back for their subsequent lead-changing score.
Trailing 20-17 in the last period, CU attempted a 52-yard FG, but the Trojan’s Adoree ‘ Jackson blocked it and recovered it at Colorado’s 35. Two plays later, Kessler threw a 36-yard TD pass to Juju Smith-Schuster (3 catches, 66 yards, 1 TD) for a 27-17 lead. Apsay could not get the Buffs driving again, but CU’s defense also held USC in check and forced a punt after stalling on its nine. Spruce returned the punt 45 yards to the four and two more were tacked on for a late hit out of bounds. Apsay connected with George Frazier with a pass from the one to get back to within 27-24. A big hit on Justin Davis by LB Grant Wantanabe stopped the next Trojan drive from finishing in the end zone. CU took over from its 21. A 10-yard pass to Shay Fields gave the Buffs a first down at their 32. However, Apsay couldn’t get his team beyond their 43 where his fourth down pass fell incomplete with 1:22 left. The Trojans took over on downs and efficiently ran the clock down to preserve a tougher than expected win.
Next up for USC (7-3, 5-2) is Oregon before UCLA comes calling to the LA Coliseum for their traditional season-ending slugfest. For Colorado (4-7, 1-6), this was their final home game of the season. They honored their seniors who will play their final two games at Washington State and at Utah. The college football regular season sure does seem to come and go quickly after much off-season anticipation. For CFF.com, I walked off the campus and down South Broadway in Boulder to go back to my rented “mini-van” and take a short drive back to the Days Inn Hotel. I looked forward to an early start the very next morning with a 70-mile trip to Colorado Springs for another first time venue to see Air Force host Utah State for our 499th game leading us up to our Big 500 a week later.
Extra points: Thanks to Dave Plati again for inviting me to Folsom Field. He even told me that the buffet in the press box was in my honor! It was great despite no alcoholic beverages allowed. News guys are always pretty good at finding the favorite local watering holes any way ( I found two quickly – The Southeastern Sun and SIP). Mountain Dews and big chocolate chip cookies for desserts enticed me the most. Dave included me in his “Welcome” section of the Pregame information brochure handed out to all the media guests. It highlighted my visit as my 498th game. I really appreciated the Buffaloes hospitality to Collegefootballfan.com!
I had an assigned Seat # 21. When I went there to sit in my supposed seat in the front row, at first I thought the card there read “Joe Tessatorre”. What ? Was I supposed to be on ESPN all of a sudden? Instead upon second look, it read “Joe Tessalore.” Oh, USC Sports Information Director. And he was supposed to be sitting next to USC AD Pat Haden. I found out that I was in the wrong row – one flight up and to their left. I never saw either one of them sitting in those seats. I was too busy watching a good game and going back to the buffet. I still wished the Song Girls had gotten closer though!
According to Dave’s report, there were 19 NFL Scouts visiting there to watch the game including my old neighbor in Florham Park, GM Mike Maccagnan of the NY Jets. I figured like others, he’s getting a close look at USC QB Cody Kessler. I’d have reminded Mike if I’d seen him that the last Trojan QB the Jets drafted last didn’t work out so well – Mark Sanchez. I would have invited him to join me on my schedule and I’ll help him find some prospects. Heck, I’m going to Ohio State at Michigan in two weeks. There will be at least four prospects for him to look at there.