USC's red zone defense came up big, limiting Colorado to just two touchdowns and a field goal.
As for USC's special teams, coach John Baxter's unit schooled its opponent once again, adding two blocked field goals to its total of six blocked kicks on the season. Although neither of Friday's blocks was at the hand--or forearm--of offensive tackle Matt Kalil, who has blocked four kicks in 2011.
But to those who follow this football team's every move, Friday's game looked different. Truthfully, it looked like an experiment.
The buzz began pregame, when news broke that USC was starting three freshmen linebackers against the Buffaloes. The usual lineup consists of two redshirt freshman in Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard on the outside and senior Chris Galippo as the Trojans' middle linebacker. But because of a concussion that sidelined Bailey for Friday's game, true freshman Tre Madden came in his place and for whatever reason true freshman Lamar Dawson, who typically backs up Galippo, started inside.
``I'm not going to lie. I was surprised,'' Galippo said. ``I don't agree with the decision.''
The secondary had new role players, too. Three of the Trojans' four defensive backs had started less than 10 games in their careers combined. It was cornerback and junior college transfer Isiah Wiley's third start ever and safeties Marshall Jones and Drew McAllister's first start this season.
McAllister was filling in for McDonald as the All-American safety rode out a half-game suspension for a hit on Stanford receiver Chris Owusu. But why Kiffin chose to start Jones over Jawanza Starling or Demetrius Wright was puzzling.
McAllister, however, proved that he should be playing valuable minutes, flashing dominance at times. He brought great run support and proved to be a solid tackler at critical points in the game.
The personnel changes didn't remain solely on the defensive side of the ball. Kiffin took a page from Stanford's playbook by using six offensive lineman and a power running scheme at times, involving tackles Kalil and true freshman Aundrey Walker.
For the most part, the formation worked and a diamond emerged in USC's 'rough'. What was thought to be a position loaded with injuries to backs Marc Tyler and George Farmer, became true freshman Amir Carlisle's signature night. The tailback, who recorded 90 yards rushing and 31 receiving, showed the same explosiveness and route running ability that he had during fall camp.
"It was awesome," Barkley said. "We knew their ends were rushing upfield pretty fast and it was just a quick screen to him [for the touchdown]. He made some nice maneuvers and got in."
But the most unusual adjustment of all might have been the quarterback switchup. After Matt Barkley set a USC record for touchdown passes in a game with six, Kiffin pushed signalcaller John Manoogian out on the field to wrap up the game. Despite an increased role in practices, redshirt freshman Jesse Scroggins did not end the game for the Trojans. Instead it was Manoogian, a walk-on redshirt junior from Windward (Los Angeles) High.
While it seems cheap to say USC looked at Colorado as a lesser opponent it could have its way with, the truth is in the statistics. The Trojans won 42-17 with a variety of formations and players who were ready at a whim's notice, and the Trojans still emerged with a statement win.
"We were a little off on a couple throws but I mean, we were throwing the ball all over the place," Barkley said. "Thank you, Coach Kiffin for the calls."
More than the win being a defeat of CU, however, it was a feat of USC. The Trojans played with no distractions. No matter the chill of the weather, the brevity of the game week or the list of mounting injuries, USC was not phased once during those four quarters.
"We really wanted to turn the page," defensive end Devon Kennard said. "Get back to winning ways. We couldn't let the tough Stanford loss affect us this week so we came out with a chip on our shoulder."
And the tweet that is more than any statistic could say comes from tight end Randall Telfer: "Don't doubt that SC's back!"
Holding a 7-2 record, including three road wins, even the most knowledgeable fan doesn't doubt that the Trojans truly have returned.