USC looks to avoid an obvious trap

Return of Colorado's top running back, receiver from injury and potential for letdown after triple-overtime loss to Stanford has USC on edge.

It looked like a trap game from the moment USC's trip to Colorado was moved to a Friday night.

Traveling on a short week coming off an emotional showdown with Stanford with the threat of unpredictable weather looked dangerous back in May.

Now, aside from avoiding snow, every one of those concerns has been magnified in the aftermath of a 56-48 triple overtime loss, as the Trojans head to Boulder for the first-ever conference meeting with the Buffaloes (6 p.m., ESPN).

Aside from a few comments about receiver Paul Richardson, who starred at Gardena (Calif.) Serra alongside the USC trio of Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and George Farmer, Colorado (1-8, 0-5 Pac-12) has been nothing more than a backdrop for the week. Instead, the focus has been almost entirely on the lingering effects of last Saturday's instant classic, raising the possibility of a letdown.

"This would could be potentially very dangerous given the fact that the team's not that good, we came off a tough loss and we think we can just cruise in on a short week and go in there and come out with a win," quarterback Matt Barkley said. "We just have to go in and play Trojan football to the very end, not take this team lightly or take it easy.

"That could be very tricky and (our) potential downfall."

There are some troubling signs. The truncated timetable meant only one day of practice in full pads Tuesday, another in shorts the next day, then a walkthrough before leaving for the airport. That means limits to the game plan.

"The coaches do a great job in tapering everything down for us in this short week," wide receiver Brice Butler said.

There has also been a lingering focus on the plays that decided the thriller with Stanford, Woods' uncharacteristic drop on the opening possession and his screen pass at the end of regulation and Curtis McNeal's fumble among them.

"With the team that we have, I think that Stanford game is behind us and we're just ready and preparing for this week," receiver Brandon Carswell said. "Our coaches are really like keep [pushing] it into us that we have another game, so that's what we're doing."

USC (6-2, 3-2 Pac-12) will also be playing without safety T.J. McDonald, suspended for the first half after drawing a personal foul for hitting Stanford receiver Chris Owusu, and could be missing several other starters because of injury. Linebacker Dion Bailey, the team's leading tackler, is dealing with a concussion, running back Marc Tyler a shoulder injury, safety Jawanza Starling and defensive end Wes Horton undisclosed conditions.

There was also the matter of head coach Lane Kiffin's war of words regarding the officiating against Stanford, which drew a public rebuke and $10,000 fine.

Kiffin, for his part, is "a lot more" concerned with the personnel issues than his bank account.

"We've had great stories over our two years, backups rising to the occasion and we're going to need that again," he said.

Drew McAllister and Marshall Jones are expected to start in the secondary, while freshman Tre Madden would replace Bailey.

They will be tasked with stopping a Colorado offense expected to get its two best players, Richardson and running back Rodney Stewart, back from knee injuries.

Richardson, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound sophomore, has missed the last four games but still leads the team with 29 receptions for 474 yards and five touchdowns.

He broke out for 284 yards with touchdowns of 66 and 78 yards in a 36-33 overtime non-conference loss to California, causing Kiffin to take notice.

"You watch that Cal game, he's so explosive," he said. "He's kind of more like Robert, if you give him space, he can just take off and go on you, and all of a sudden your angles disappear. It shows the potential of their offense when he's healthy and when the running back's healthy too."

Woods already knew of Richardson's speed, as he ran the leadoff leg of Serra's 4x100 relay team that also featured Farmer and Devan Spann, now a cornerback at Arizona State.


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