Mike MacIntyre talked this week about USC's transition from a hybrid offense to a spread offense... was Clay Helton feeling pressure to make that change or did it come as a result of freshman Sam Darnold taking over behind center?
Ryan Abraham: "We talked to Clay Helton about Mike MacIntyre's comments and according to Helton, USC is not running a spread offense attack. He pointed to a couple of factors as to why he wouldn't categorize what they run as a spread. First they frequently use either one or two tight ends and they even occasionally utilize a fullback. Second he talked about his team rushing for 200 yards since Sam Darnold became the starter. Note: USC did rush for over 200 yards against Utah, but failed to hit that mark (157) against Arizona State. And many spread teams are able to pile up high rushing totals.
"Since Sam Darnold took over two games ago the offense has looked different, but there is a lot of debate on why that is. Is it simply Darnold's ability to run or has the play calling changed as well? One thing is certain, they are calling a lot more run-pass option plays and with Darnold at the helm he has three options instead of two: hand it off, run it himself or drop back and pass."
What do you attribute the Trojans' early season struggles to, and did it feel like they got back on track last Saturday against Arizona State?
"My take is that the talent is there for this team and the depth, while not ideal, is so much better than it had been during the sanctions years (started the season with 81 recruiting athletes on scholarship). The team has looked unorganized and unprepared and that falls on the inexperienced coaching staff trying to get things going against a very tough schedule. Fair or not, this was a rookie head coach learning on the job against the likes of Alabama, Stanford and Utah and the results were not favorable.
"The USC offensive line has also underperformed in 2016. Certainly losing starting center Toa Lobendahn was a big blow, but his replacement Nico Falah has plenty of experience and has played well these past few games. This is a deep line with four and five star players and many, many starts between them so there is no excuse for the mental and physical beats, especially in the early going. However, against Arizona State this team appeared to live up to the potential and expectations. Was that because the Trojans have really improved or because the Sun Devils had an easy schedule? Guess we'll find out on Saturday."
For Colorado fans that have not watched USC much early on this season, who are the Trojans' top playmakers, on both sides of the ball?
"On offense look for the aforementioned quarterback Sam Darnold, a redshirt freshman who has the athletic ability to take off and run and more importantly, avoid sacks. Senior Justin Davis is coming off back to back 100-yard rushing games. He is USC's most complete back and while he isn't the biggest guy in the world, he has been running with power and breaking tackles this season. Juju Smith-Schuster is a junior wideout who struggled with just 99 yards in his first three games, but be broke out against Arizona State with over 100 yards and 3 touchdowns.
"On defense Adoree Jackson is a junior lock down cornerback who has a flair for the dramatic. He doesn't see a lot of balls thrown his way. Cameron Smith is the sophomore middle linebacker who looks fully recovered from the knee injury that ended his season prematurely last season. And Utah transfer Stevie Tui'kolovatu is been a great run stopper in the middle of the defensive line."
The Buffaloes have certainly struggled against the Trojans at the Memorial Coliseum since joining the conference. From what you've gathered, what is the perception of this year's Colorado team out there in Los Angeles?
"With so much turmoil around the USC program there is a lot more talk about where the Trojans are at than the resurgence of the Buffalo program. One Trojan fan Tweeted me this week asking if Colorado even had a chance. Yes, that is crazy.
"But that is from the fans perspective which obviously doesn't really matter. Clay Helton and the players we have talked to have given high praise to this Colorado program as you would expect. USC went undefeated in the Pac-12 South last season and while it can't do that this season, the Trojans still have their eyes on the division championship and they know that cannot happen without a win over the Buffs."
Do the Trojans have any injuries of note?
"Right tackle Zach Banner missed the Arizona State game with an ankle sprain so USC platooned senior Jordan Simmons and sophomore Chuma Edoga at that spot. Still unsure of his availability for this game (he was announced as the starter for ASU yet didn't play). USC's new starting nickel back Jonathan Lockett has a sprained shoulder that Helton said was not serious. Reserve outside linebacker Jabari Ruffin is out right now with concussion protocol and he is 50/50 to return before the game. Running backs Aca'cedric Ware (hand) and Dominic Davis (knee) both look to be ready to go. Reserve safety Ykili Ross has a sprained shoulder and he is 50/50 to return and starting tight end Taylor McNamara has a strained back with no timetable given for his return."
Lastly, how do you see Saturday's game shaking out, and what is your score prediction?
"Like last week I could see this game playing out in numerous ways. I wouldn't be shocked if USC continued its dominance and won by a couple of touchdowns but I also wouldn't be shocked if Colorado came out and played inspired football and beat the Trojans by a couple of touchdowns. My gut feeling is that these teams play a closer game where the Trojans are up by maybe a touchdown most of the time and USC hangs on at the end to win. I'll say USC 35 Colorado 28."