One more time, USC stumbles, gets it together

The Trojans go on a 21-0 run after falling behind 17-3 to the lowly Buffs to win their 4th straight.

BOULDER, Colo. -- They live to fight another day.

Two more days to be exact, and maybe that's all you can ask of a team that keeps falling behind game after game after game after game.

As these USC Trojans did one again Friday in chilly Boulder where they energized a crowd of 37,905 huddling together for warmth who couldn't believe their eyes when they realized their beloved Buffs were leading 17-3 and the first half still had time for more.

But somehow, some way, USC got it together one more time, came out and scored 21 straight points in the next 16:05 and held on one more time for a 27-24 win against the 4-7 Buffs.

"You don't want that to happen," Helton said of a team that as much as it often disappoints in its initial effort and execution but never panics, gives up or packs it in.

"We keep playing," Su'a Cravens said. "We didn't panic. We knew they couldn't beat us . . . if we played like we know we can."

A very big "if" on this night when the lack of first-half execution was equaled only by the lack of effort and the lack of inspiration from a game plan that looked like it had been put together by someone in a blindfold.

"Any fault of these players is on me," Helton said. but so is the second half. "There's an extreme amount of poise on this football team," Helton said. "They don't get overexcited."

Neither did Helton. "I told them if 11 men do their job and execute, you're going to be very happy at the end of the game. It was as simple as that. The defense gets a stop, we go down and score a touchdown. Defense gets another stop and all of a sudden we're up in the game."

All of a sudden. after waiting just under 40 minutes for that first touchdown, a four-yard play-action pass to Jahleel Pinner, USC scored two more in the blink of an eye.

For those keeping score at home, that's shut out of TDs for almost 40 minutes, then three in the next 6:39.

And after that initial 83-yard opening drive, the next two TDs came as the result of defensive stops or "stabs," as Delvon Simmons called his shaking the football loose from Chris Powell after deciding he was, indeed, going to play this game on the Buffs' side of the line of scrimmage.

"It just clicked," Simmons said. "Coach [Chris] Wilson always preaches about playing on the opposite side of the line and . . . we just got together, started talking about it . . . we just came in at halftime and fixed it . . . "

As did the offense, finishing that drive with a play-action pass to Taylor McNamara to give USC a 2017 lead. And then fixed it even more on the next possession when USC forced a long forth-down field goal from 51 yards out.

With Jabari Ruffin taking out the tackle and with Adoree' Jackson at his side, Simmons got the ball of Diego Gonzalez' toe before it had a chance to get into the air with his right biceps, showing off the mark proudly after the game. Adoree' scooped it up and made it to the CU 36.

Then the Trojans struck like the old days with Cody Kessler hooking up at last with Juju Smith-Schuster, who had to have his right hand re-casted at halftime because the original cast was too big. But JuJu was taking no chances. He caught the ball over his head with two hands and cradled it to his chest.

USC 27, Colorado 17. Ball game. OK, the Trojans never make these easy. Backed up to their 5, they couldn't get a first down, couldn't get a decent punt, couldn't stop Nelson Spruce, a truly great senior for the Buffs, until he got to the 4 and then punter Kris Albarado hit him out of bounds. So the Buffs had just two yards to go to make it 27-24.

And with 6:13 left, USC would have to make something happen. They didn't with their offense, not the first time, but the defense held for four downs at the Colorado 43 and USC got Justin Davis loose for 13 yards on a third and eight and the Trojans had their fourth straight win.

And like the others, USC (7-3, 5-2 in the Pac-12) didn't do this the easy way. And won't be able to do it this way next Saturday at Oregon. "Definitely not," Su'a said.

But how to avoid that? "Obviously you can't do that every week or you're going to lose a ball game," Helton said. Heck, they could have easily lost this one. Or last week's against Arizona.

But somehow, some way, they didn't.

"We found a hard-nosed personality in that loss at Notre Dame when we came back and couldn't hold it," Cravens said. "We knew they couldn't beat us. I couldn't have said that in Game 4. Or going into Notre Dame.

"But now we just keep playing . . . we can win out."

Colorado's Jared Bell, who had the one interception off Kessler, who finished 17 of 27 passing for 204 yards and three touchdowns, said he wasn't surprised at how this turned out.

"It's USC," Bell said. "You've got to give them credit. They came out and executed . . . they schemed up something at halftime to get us on our heels . . . give them credit for going out and making the plays they were supposed to make."

Or in this game, give them half credit at least.

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