Four Downs: Colorado

USC must get tailback Curtis McNeal back on track, contain Colorado senior Rodney Stewart.

Don't Give Colorado Any Hope
Let's start with the incredibly obvious: Colorado is terrible. Terrible is the nicest way to describe the ineptitude.

The Buffaloes rank last in the Pac-12 in scoring offense and defense, but shocking only next to last in total offense and defense and turnover margin.

They haven't won a road game since the Carter Administration, or maybe it just feels like that, and are staring down a 1-12 record.

The last thing USC can do is let them get some confidence and hang around.

Colorado did take California to overtime in a September non-conference meeting and Washington State needed a last-minute 63-yard touchdown pass to escape Boulder. They expect to get their top offensive playmakers in wide receiver Paul Richardson and running back Rodney Stewart back from injury.

Even after the emotional investment in the Stanford game and just one practice in pads this week, USC needs to get a big lead early and put its foot on Colorado's neck.

Stuff Stewart
After missing two games with a sprained knee, senior running back Rodney Stewart is expected to return in hopes of bolstering a run attack that ranks last in the conference.

Like former Oregon State star Jacquizz Rodgers, Stewart is undersized (listed at 5-foot-6) but is more than capable of being a workhorse. In fact, he carried the ball 20 or more times on 19 occasions for the Buffaloes and is averaging 18.1 attempts in his first six starts this season (he left the game at Washington after four rushes).

USC has been stout against the run and needs to do so again, creating obvious passing downs to unleash its pass rush against a Colorado front line allowing more than three sacks per game.

Let McNeal Be Mighty
Colorado is very bad at stopping the run, allowing 185 yards per game and 21 rushing touchdowns this season.

USC has finally rediscovered the run, riding diminutive Curtis McNeal to a more consistent ground game in its last three contests.

Head coach Lane Kiffin must continue both formulas, feeding the redshirt junior against an outmanned defense. McNeal is averaging 5.7 yards per carry in his last three, with no fewer than 17 carries in any game in that span.

Behind an improving offensive line, McNeal should post his third consecutive 100-yard effort.

Avoid Further Injuries
USC is at the edge of a cliff at several positions, most notably running back and cornerback, in terms of injuries.

With no sign of a Torin Harris return anytime soon, walk-on James Harbin is likely to serve as the third corner in nickel packages. Freshman Amir Carlisle and D.J. Morgan, apparently now in the doghouse, are the only other options at tailback with Marc Tyler and George Farmer banged up and Dillon Baxter off the team.

Add in injuries to the likes of receiver Robert Woods, defensive end Wes Horton and safety Jawanza Starling, this would be the perfect time to get the starters the kind of lead where they can rest for most of the second half.


USCFootball.com Top Stories