CU Buffs vs. USC quick hits: Shedeur Sanders runs out of time in masterful duel with Caleb Williams


Initial observations from the CU Buffs’ 48-41 loss to the USC Trojans in head coach Deion Sanders’ first Pac-12 home game at Folsom Field on Saturday.

Quick game: If it wasn’t clear after the first CU drive, it was abundantly so after the second. These coaches did not trust the Buffs offensive line early on. Nearly every Shedeur Sanders drop-back was two or three steps. Quick outs. Short button-hooks. Screens. And with good reason. This USC pass rush gets home on good offensive lines, and the Buffs have been shaky up front. The two times Sanders did drop back deep on the Buffs’ three first-quarter possessions — third-and-9 in USC territory on CU’s second drive, and third-and-5 on the CU 30 on its third — pressure followed, with the latter resulting in his lone interception.

Perfection needed: The end result of all those short-yardage throws? The Buffs’ margin for error was razor thin. A false start here, errant throw or drop there, and CU just didn’t have enough chunk-play mojo to make up for it — well, until the Buffs opened things up in second half, that is. One of the hallmarks of the Buffs’ win at TCU wasn’t just all the big plays they made, but that they played nearly flawless offensive football for large portions of the game. The Buffs couldn’t do that often enough in the first half against USC. And the resulting 27-point hole with 2:54 left in the second quarter was simply too big of a crater to dig out of.

Point for point: The other factor putting pressure on the Buffs offense? The defense is just not there yet on a consistent basis. With a five-game sample size to pick through, it’s probably now safe to say that the outlier for the Buffs was the Nebraska game. Remember, the Cornhuskers moved the ball. They just couldn’t stop turning it over. The other four teams the Buffs have played scored 42, 35, 42 and 48 points. Take away shutdown cornerback Travis Hunter and safety Shilo Sanders from that equation, and things get worse. Add those two, and maybe, just maybe, they have enough to take down a few more heavyweights.

Yeah, he really is that good: Normally, we’re not here for moral victories. There’s just too few games in a football season. But we just saw Caleb Williams and Shedeur Sanders go blow-for-blow, and the CU quarterback sure looked like the better player by the end of it. Immaculate deep passes. On-the-money out-routes. Freelancing at its finest. Williams threw six touchdown passes for USC, but Sanders (30-of-45 passing, 371 yards, 4 TDs) felt like the star. Well, he and CU freshman receiver Omarion Miller (7 catches, 196 yards), that is. If the rout in Oregon was the Buffs coming back down to Earth, this loss is them redefining their ceiling. This team competes. And that could lead to big things down the line.

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