After surrendering 35 points to Cal, the Trojan defense knew they had to bear down against Colorado, the last-place team in the Pac-12.
The walls of Troy passed with flying colors, sacking Colorado quarterback J.T. Shrout three times and limiting the Buffaloes to 259 total yards, the lowest the Trojans have allowed this season. The Trojans gave up just three third-down conversions on twelve Buffalo attempts in a 55-17 victory.
“Our defense played really well,” head coach Lincoln Riley said. “We affected the passer, which was huge. We did a really nice job on third down. We got a couple of turnovers. I was really proud of the defensive effort.”
Junior defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu and senior defensive lineman Tyrone Taleni combined for three sacks.
“[Tuli] has been so important to what we’ve been doing,” Riley said. “He affects the passer in a really unique way, and I think he has really improved as a player. His versatility has really shown, and he’s been consistent for us.”
Sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams recorded 268 yards and also rushed for two touchdowns. Redshirt freshman quarterback Miller Moss tacked on 78 more yards.
The victory came at a heavy price.
With 2:49 left in the second quarter, two Colorado defenders slammed redshirt senior running back Travis Dye to the ground after he received a handoff. Immediately, Dye clutched his left leg and remained on the ground for several minutes.
A look of serious concern engulfed Lincoln Riley’s face as the entire team huddled around Dye. The wide receiver had to be carted off the field. Riley said that he does not expect Dye to play again this season. His time as a Trojan on the field appears to be at an end.
“There’s no way we’d be sitting here as a football team if it wasn’t for him,” Riley said. “He’ll be playing on an NFL team next year.”
Defensive back Max Williams brought down R.J. Sneed on the 45-yard line to stifle the Buffaloes’ opening drive. Colorado responded by forcing Caleb Williams to sail a pass over the head of Dye, resulting in a three-and-out for the Trojans.
On Colorado’s second drive, Tuipulotu broke through the Colorado offensive line and threw down Shrout on the Colorado 40, forcing the Buffaloes to punt again.
Williams heaved a pass toward a sprinting Brenden Rice on the left side. At the last moment, Nico Reed put his hands out and dove for the ball, picking the ball from Rice’s hands and giving Williams his second interception of the season.
The takeaway turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Trojans. Chased by a Trojan defender, Shrout scrambled into the end zone out of the pocket and threw a pass into the Colorado bench. The entire Trojan squad erupted when the refs called a safety, putting the Trojans up 2-0
Colorado responded with another strong defensive effort, forcing another three-and-out on the Trojans.
Back on offense, Alex Fontenot rushed for 37 yards on the right side to put the Buffaloes in the red zone. Skillful tackles by the Trojan defense limited the Buffaloes to just a field goal, kicked by Cole Becker to give Colorado the lead 3-2.
In the second quarter, Kyle Ford helped the Trojans escape an early 3rd and 28, receiving a heave from Williams and running for 42 yards to put USC on the 20-yard line. After faking a handoff, Williams ran up the middle for the first touchdown for either side. Denis Lynch put the finishing kick on a 72-yard drive by the Trojans.
On 3rd and 10, Tuipulotu threw down Shrout again on the COLO 08, forcing the ball loose. Stanley Ta’ufo’ou quickly dove to grab the ball and pumped his fists in the air, screaming with his teammates.
Williams followed up the defensive effort by dodging several defenders and sprinting into the end zone on the right side for his second rushing touchdown
In the third quarter, Williams, scrambling away from the defensive linemen, made his signature running heave to Tahj Washington. The wide receiver sprinted all the way to the end zone through the middle to put USC up 33-10.
Riley decided to let Will Rose run the ball for a successful two-point conversion. Rose celebrated with a backflip, getting the entire Coliseum on its feet. The refs were not as enthused as they gave the punter a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The eight-point drive proved to be the nail in Colorado’s coffin.
USC moves to 9-1 overall and 7-1 in the Pac-12. The Trojans will face their biggest challenge of the season so far when they travel up to the Rose Bowl to face off against UCLA next Saturday.
“It is the rivalry, but we have to treat every game the same,” Tuipulotu said. “How we treat Colorado, how we treat UCLA – we just work for practice, to get better. It’s the same thing every week.”