For the Colorado Buffaloes, the first month of the season included a rocky opener, three straight losses and an offense that is struggling to get first downs, let alone points.
For the Southern California Trojans, the first month brought a coaching change and two blowout losses.
Just 10 months ago, this was a battle everyone wanted to see — but couldn’t — to settle the Pac-12 South title. Now, Saturday’s game between CU and USC at Folsom Field is a matchup between two struggling squads seeking a turnaround.
“All of us go through adversity and moments of our lives,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. “And whoever deals with it the best in terms of having the best solution in their own personal way to get through it, those are the ones that usually can recover the fastest.”
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For CU, the adversity has been mostly on offense. The Buffs have been striving all season to get the offense, led by freshman quarterback Brendon Lewis, going. In many major categories, the Buffs rank among the worst offenses in the country, including in scoring (13.8 points per game, 127th) and passing (85.0 yards per game, 128th).
“We’ve talked about our (adversity) quite a bit,” Dorrell said. “We don’t sugarcoat anything. We don’t make excuses for anything. We have the team that we have that’s fielded to play every week and there’s expectations that we have each and every week. Sometimes they get met and sometimes they don’t, but I think we’re at that point where we need to continue to progress and push forward offensively.”
USC, meanwhile, is struggling to meet a higher standard of expectations for its program.
Head coach Clay Helton was fired after a 42-28 loss to Stanford in Week 2. Under interim coach Donte Williams, the Trojans won the next week at Washington State but got blown out at home last week against Oregon State.
The preseason favorite to win the South for the second year in a row, the Trojans already have two conference losses.
“I think these guys are really still playing pretty hard,” Dorrell said of his impression of the Trojans. “They’re dealing with their own issues, obviously, in their program, just like we’re dealing with ours, but they’re still being very competitive and working hard. When you watch footage of them on the sideline they’re supporting their teammates that are playing.”
CU players insist they’ve got the same support and desire on their side. The Buffs might also get a jolt of energy from the return of Mustafa Johnson. The star defensive lineman who declared for the NFL Draft in January but wasn’t selected will make his season debut on Saturday.
“I hope I can be a morale booster in any facet of the game, whether it’s on the field, off the field,” Johnson said. “When I practice and when I play, I come with an intensity that I just always play with. … I hope that will be able to affect the team in whatever way that needs to be taken.”
Whether it’s getting the offense going or feeding off Johnson’s energy, the Buffs hope to get a mental edge, especially early in the game.
“Honestly, this game is probably going to be more mental than physical,” CU receiver Dimitri Stanley said. “I feel like with everything that they’re dealing with behind the scenes and everything we’re dealing with behind the scenes, it’s kind of just who can block out the noise on game day and kind of just play football.
“I feel like our guys are ready mentally.”
The team that is best prepared, mentally and physically, can get a win that, at least for a week, can stop the bleeding.
“(Adversity) is a part of life. It’s not going to be a bed of roses where everything’s gonna be smooth sailing and everybody’s feeling great and you’re undefeated and all that,” Dorrell said. “There’s going to be some things you’ve got to work through.
“It makes you a whole lot better the next time something like that happens, so we’re going through it but we’re optimistic. We’ve got a good attitude. We feel good we’re gonna keep pushing forward. The season is still young. There’s still a lot to play for, and it starts this week.”
Game at a Glance
Matchup: Southern California Trojans (2-2, 1-2 Pac-12) at Colorado Buffaloes (1-3, 0-1)
Kickoff: 12:01 p.m. MST
Where: Folsom Field in Boulder. Playing surface: Grass
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: KOA (850 AM & 94.1 FM)
Odds: USC by 7.5
Series: USC leads 14-0
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