2016 Colorado Preview
Yes, Darnold is good enough to lead SC to a winning record and quiet the chatter about Helton’s job security: Darnold completed 70% of his passes, threw for 352 yards and had 3 touchdowns against a porous ASU defense. He showed the escapability, poise and knack for making the big play, which is Steve Sarkisian described him as “Johnny Manziel but with size” when speaking to certain donors and administrators during fall camp last year. As long as the offensive line holds up, Darnold has the ability to make-up for the deficiencies of a rookie offensive coordinator and make the SC offense high-scoring and exciting.
With a victory over #21 Colorado in the Coliseum (Trojans are favored despite their 2-3 record), the Trojans will be 3-3 and have an easier schedule than anticipated to finish the season. Should the Trojans defeat Colorado, they will be favored in every game left on the schedule except for Washington and maybe UCLA. Oregon and Notre Dame have been disappointing and SC plays them at home where Helton is undefeated as a head coach. A 7-5 or 8-4 record is a real possibility…on the flip side, a loss to the Buffs will kill the momentum created form the ASU game and likely lead to a losing record and probably a new head coach. Helton will then be 1-6 as a head coach vs. top 25 teams…Bottom Line: Helton needs this victory!
Darnold needs to be careful with some of his “hero” throws: After reviewing film vs. ASU,a pro scout told me that Darnold got away with three throws that should have been intercepted and he often tries to place the ball into a real tight window. Since Darnold doesn’t have a quick release, some savvy defenders are going to be able to read this tendency and capitalize.
SC has more talent but Colorado has the better coach: After a long period of futility, Colorado has finally emerged to be a legitimate threat to win the Pac-12 South. When Mike MacIntyre was hired by Colorado, many in the college coaching world felt it was a “genius” hire and that he would eventually make Colorado competitive despite sub-par facilities. Prior to the Colorado job, MacIntyre took over a 1-win San Jose State team in 2010 and within three years they had a 10-2 record and were ranked in the top 25. The turnaround has taken longer at Colorado (year 5) but it appears Colorado is now for real. Despite losing their star QB Sefo Liufau (ankle) in a loss to Michigan, Colorado has run off two straight victories with back-up QB Steven Montez throwing for over 600 yards and a passer rating of 187. Typically spread-option offenses crumble when the starter is injured. The fact they appear to be playing better with Montez is a sign that Colorado finally has the depth and talent to compete at a high level in the Pac-12…SC has the talent edge but if this is a tight game, Colorado will have the X’s and O’s edge. . .unless…
Special Teams could be the deciding factor if SC pulls out the victory: Despite the media jumping all over SC for not having enough players on the field for some special teams situations, one of the strengths of the Trojans is the special teams unit which ranks 20th in the nation in special teams efficiency. SC is consistent in all phases with one of the nation’s best kick returners in Adoree’ Jackson, strong defensive kick coverage, and they boast both a field goal kicker and punter who are well above average. On the other hand, Colorado gave up two special teams touchdowns in their only loss to Michigan and rank 117th out of 128 teams in special teams efficiency. This phase of the game should help cancel out any coaching advantage Colorado appears to have.
A Sark recruiting blunder could haunt the Trojans Saturday: Back in 2013, then SC interim head coach Ed Orgeron offered wide receiver Shay Fields a scholarship. However, when Steve Sarkisian was hired, he decided to drop the offer to Fields and give that scholarship to Rashead Johnson. Johnson left USC after one semester and is currently playing for San Jose State. Fields ended up accepting a scholarship to Colorado where the junior is the leading receiver for the Buffaloes and leads the Pac-12 in receptions of over 30 yards or more.
Colorado QB’s and balanced offense will be a true test for SC’s defensive line: Since Colorado has a very balanced up-tempo attack with two QB’s who can also beat you with their legs, SC will be susceptible to giving up big plays if they blitz as much as they did vs. ASU. It is imperative the SC defensive line is able to create its own penetration to help slow down their vaunted attack. Colorado QB Sefo Liufau injured his ankle against Michigan (they were winning before he got hurt) but is expected to play this week. However, freshman Steven Montez has thrown for over 600 yards with six touchdowns and has a passer rating of 187 in the past two games he has started. Liufau’s passer rating before he was injured was 181. This will be the most dynamic offense SC will face this year and the defensive line needs to play well. SC only has a 16.8% stuff rate (when the runner is tackled at or before the line of scrimmage), which ranks 94th out 128 division 1 teams in the country.
Speaking of the defensive line…Rasheem Green played fantastic vs. ASU: During the 43 plays that Green played vs. ASU, the Sun Devils had only 91 total yards which is a 2.1 yards per play average. These numbers are a little inflated since ASU’s starting QB didn’t play in the second half, but his performance was extremely. He did a tremendous job of creating organic penetration and disrupting the ASU back-field throughout the game. He seems to be on track to become SC’s next great defensive lineman.
Trojans looking good in the Pistol offense: With Darnold at QB, the SC offense has some new wrinkles. They used the pistol formation 17 times vs. ASU and when Darnold was the QB in that formation, they averaged a stunning 13.66 yards per play! Expect SC to continue to employ the pistol and more read/option looks to allow Darnold more autonomy with the offense.
Betting Info: Despite SC being 2-3 and Colorado being ranked #21 in the nation, SC opened as a four point favorite and the spread jumped to 5.5 points per Vegasinsider.com’s consensus line. SC has covered in the two games in which they were favored this year and is 2-3 against the spread. Colorado is 4-0 against the spread this year.
Carol Skinner Memorial Tid-bits:
*SC Starting right tackle Zach Banner is 50/50 at best as to whether he will play and most likely will miss his second straight game due to a left ankle sprain.
*With two starts, Sam Darnold has become one of the most accurate passers in the NCAA, ranking #11 in the nation.
*SC is 10-0 all-time against Colorado
*Expect a quick offensive start from Colorado. They are outscoring opponents 165-47 in the 1st half.
*Fun Fact: WR’s Deontay Burnett and Seven Mitchell Jr. have the best catch rates of the WR’s at 73.9%. JuJu Smith-Schuster is third with a 68.4% catch rate.
*Fun Fact Part II: Part of the reason that RB Ronald Jones is in a sophomore slump and not seeing the field is much is that he is struggling catching the ball out of the back-field. Starting RB Justin Davis has the best catch rate on the team at 73.9% while Jones has the worst catch rate on the team at 25%.
*Most pundits picked SC to have a 7-5 or 8-4 record prior to the start of the season.