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USC knocks off No. 21 Colorado, 21-17

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The Trojans (3-3, 2-2) might have blown a two-touchdown lead but they came away with the victory over the Buffaloes (4-2, 2-1) and their first winning streak of the season.

Slideshow: Photos from Trojans’ victory over the Buffaloes

USC tight end Tyler Petite scores the go-ahead touchdown against Colorado in the fourth quarter Saturday. To see more images from the game, click on the photo above.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

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USC stops Colorado’s rally for a 21-17 victory

Another USC turnover, it seemed, was hanging in the air, when Sam Darnold lofted a pass toward Darreus Rogers.

USC had blown a two-touchdown lead to No. 21 Colorado in the second half in a flurry of giveaways. Now, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon camped under the ball for another.

He leaped. Rogers leaped higher. The Trojans receiver snatched the ball away from Witherspoon and absconded down the field with it before being tackled not far outside the 20-yard line.

Four plays later, USC scored on a pass from Darnold to tight end Tyler Petite to regain the lead. It would hold on for a 21-17 victory.

The win was USC’s first over a ranked team in four tries this season. It also gave USC (3-3, 2-2 in the Pac-12) its first winning streak and dethroned the Pac-12 South Division’s top team in Colorado (4-2, 2-1).

USC dominated the first half, but missed an opportunity to take a dominant lead into halftime.

On USC’s first drive, quarterback Sam Darnold scrambled in the red zone and fumbled the ball at the one-yard line.

USC scored twice in the half — on a 32-yard pass to tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe, the first touchdown of his career, and an 11-yard pass to tight end Tyler Petite.

The second score was typical of Darnold. He fumbled an exchange with the running back on a play-action pass. But he calmly scooped the ball, scrambled to his left, turned back to his right, then found a wide-open Petite.

Darnold finished 25-of-37 passing for 358 yards and three touchdowns, with three giveaways.

But the failure to score on the opening drive would be costly.

Turnovers again hurt USC in the second half. Justin Davis fumbled on a promising opening drive, then Darnold fumbled again on the next possession, and then threw an interception on the possession after that. In between, Davis left the game with an apparent right ankle injury. He finished as USC’s leading rusher, with 83 yards in 13 carries.

It was a stretch reminiscent of USC’s start against

In between, Colorado scored on a double pass — a backward pass to receiver Bryce Bobo, who then threw to a wide-open Phillip Lindsay for a 67-yard touchdown completion.

But USC’s defense limited the damage. After Darnold’s interception, Adoree’ Jackson made one of his own — an acrobatic, toe-tapping grab on the sideline.

Then, in the fourth quarter, Colorado drove 84 yards in eight plays, capped by an 11-yard pass to Bobo to even the score at 14.

But Rogers’ strong hands, and a defensive stop, gave USC the win.

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Colorado settles for field goal and USC still leads, 21-17

Colorado had to settle for a field goal after a 51-yard drive. USC leads, 21-17, with 4 minutes and 49 seconds remaining.

USC’s pass rush again came through on a third down with a sack of Steven Montez to set up Davis Price’s 42-yard field goal.

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USC regains the lead, 21-14

If USC holds on to win the game, it can thank Darreus Rogers, may have made the play of the game. Darnold heaved the ball in Rogers’ direction, but the pass was underthrown. Ahkello Witherspoon leaped and caught the ball at its high point, but Rogers leaped higher, and ripped the ball out of his hands. It was a 46-yard completion that set up USC not far outside the red zone.

USC turned the play into a touchdown, when Darnold fired a seven-yard touchdown pass to Petite. USC leads 21-14.

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Colorado ties the score, 14-14, in the fourth quarter

Colorado has tied the score on an 11-yard pass from Steven Montez to Bryce Bobo on third down.

Colorado marched 84 yards in eight plays, including a 21-yard pass to Bobo, an 11-yard connection to Ento Kabion and a big 37-yard run by Phillip Lindsay.

USC will receive the kickoff with 10 minutes and 20 seconds remaining in the game.

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USC opens the fourth quarter with a punt

USC’s running game has stalled without Justin Davis.

Sam Darnold completed two passes for medium gains — 26 yards to Smith-Schuster and 12 yards to Steven Mitchell. But a run for no gain by Aca’Cedric Ware and two incompletions set up a punt.

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USC will start the fourth quarter with the ball and a 14-7 lead

After a first down, a false start and a strong USC pass rush forced a punt. USC will start the fourth quarter with the ball and the lead.

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USC, Colorado exchange defensive stops

After a Colorado three and out, USC narrowly avoided another interception.

After a pass deflected off receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, it nearly landed in the hands of a defender. But it was ruled incomplete, and USC punted.

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USC’s can’t convert on fourth down

USC’s offense has lost some of its rhythm. After a 34-yard pass to Smith-Schuster put USC in Colorado’s territory, USC couldn’t convert on fourth and six from Colorado’s 31-yard line. Darnold’s pass was batted down at the line.

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Jackson’s highlight-reel interception limits damage

Adoree’ Jackson bailed out USC’s offense with one of the better interceptions anyone is likely to see this season.

Flushed from the pocket, Colorado quarterback Steven Montez hurled a pass toward the sideline. Jackson swooped in, caught the pass high in the air, then extended a toe just in bounds for the interception.

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A miserable drive for USC leads to injuries, turnover

That was a fairly disastrous drive for USC. First, Davis was injured and was later carted to the locker room, with ice on his right ankle. Then, guard Viane Talamaivao was injured and jogged off the field.

Then Darnold had a pass intercepted for the first time since becoming the starter. Colorado will have the ball in USC territory looking to tie the score.

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Colorado gets on the board and now trails USC, 14-7, in the third quarter

Colorado finally made USC pay for its turnovers.

On the first play following the fumble, the Buffaloes used a double pass — first a backward pass to Bryce Bobo, who then threw to a wide-open Phillip Lindsay for a 67-yard touchdown completion.

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Yet another fumble for Darnold and USC

Is it groundhog day? On third down, Sam Darnold scrambled to his left, but couldn’t elude the rush. He appeared to attempt to throw the ball away, but it squirted out for yet another fumble. Colorado will take over on its own 33-yard line.

Here’s what it looked like:

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USC’s defense holds

USC’s defense limited the damage from the fumble.

It forced a three and out, and another big Adoree’ Jackson return on the punt, this time 47 yards, gave USC the ball not far from where Davis fumbled moments ago.

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Another fumble haunts USC

Fumbles continue to bite USC. A promising drive ended when Tedric Thompson popped the ball loose from Justin Davis.

USC started with good field position, on its own 42-yard line, thanks to a 38-yard return by Adoree’ Jackson and marched into Colorado territory on its first two plays.

Davis ran another 15 yards before coughing up the ball.

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USC enters halftime leading 14-0

Colorado has a new quarterback, at least temporarily, but got the same result. Steven Montez was knocked out of the game after taking a hit from Porter Gustin. Montez walked off the field on his own power and appeared to be fine. He stood with his helmet on next to Colorado’s offensive coordinator.

Sefo Liufau, Colorado’s regular starter who has missed two games because of a sprained ankle, replaced Montez. With seconds left in the quarter, Liufau and Colorado couldn’t convert on fourth down at USC’s 38-yard line.

USC took a knee to head into the locker room with the lead, 14-0.

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USC scores again, leads Colorado, 14-0, in the second quarter

For the past two weeks, USC Coach Clay Helton has marveled at quarterback Sam Darnold’s ability to stay calm. Broken play? Bad snap? No options? It hasn’t seemed to faze Darnold, Helton said.

For more evidence, see USC’s second touchdown.

After a long drive, starting at USC’s 8-yard line, USC had advanced to Colorado’s 11. Darnold flubbed the exchange with the running back on what appeared to be a play-action pass. He scooped up the ball, then rolled to his left, where he met Colorado’s pass rush. He spun back and to his right, then, before two rushers converged on him, he calmly tossed a pass to wide-open tight end Tyler Petite, who caught it and barreled into the end zone for the touchdown.

Here’s what it looked like:

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Colorado drive stalls but reverses field position

Colorado punched its way out from its own 3-yard line, but USC’s defense held again.

Colorado’s seven-play, 45-yard drive did reverse the field position. A holding on the punt knocked USC back to its own 8-yard line.

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Colorado forces USC’s first punt

After a 23-yard completion to JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC’s drive stalled, and the Trojans punted.

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Penalties, pass rush force another Colorado punt

Another Colorado series, another punt. Steven Montez made an impressive escape on a third and 10 to complete a 16-yard pass to Devin Ross. But after Colorado crossed into USC territory, penalties for a false start, holding and intentional grounding — in the face of a strong four-man pass rush — set up a third and 39. The Buffaloes did not convert.

Christian Rector was flagged for running into the punter, but it was not enough to give Colorado a new set of downs, and the penalty was declined.

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USC leads Colorado, 7-0, in the first quarter

USC is on the board. Sam Darnold lofted a 32-yard pass on the money to Daniel Imatorbhebhe for the game’s first score. USC drove 80 yards in nine plays, aided by an 18-yard, third-down pass to Steven Mitchell and a four-yard, third-down run by Justin Davis.

The touchdown is the first of Imatorbhebhe’s career.

USC has had no trouble moving the ball on Colorado. Through two drives, the Trojans are averaging 7.8 yards a play, compared to Colorado’s 2.9.

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USC forces a second Colorado punt

USC forced another punt after a strong defensive series, but not before Steven Montez showed off why he’s a tricky quarterback to stop. On a third down and 10, Montez escaped multiple USC defenders, who appeared to have him fenced him, to extend the drive with a 19-yard rush.

Later, on third down and four, he completed a pass to Bryce Bobo for eight yards. The drive sputtered, though, when Jay MacIntyre couldn’t hold onto another third-down pass.

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Fumble at the goal line ends USC’s opening drive

USC might be having flashbacks to its loss to Utah, when fumbles torpedoed its efforts in the first half.

After picking up a yard on fourth down on Colorado’s 19-yard line, quarterback Sam Darnold dropped back to pass, then tucked the ball and ran. He dove for the end zone, but the ball was knocked out at the 1-yard line and recovered by Colorado in the end zone.

It ended a promising, nine-play, 61-yard drive and gave the Buffaloes the ball on USC’s 20-yard line.

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USC’s defense starts hot

USC’s defense picked up where it left off last week. USC won the opening coin toss and deferred. After a two-yard rush on first down, USC brought pressure to force a three and out.

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Colorado picks a quarterback

Colorado will start Steven Montez at quarterback. Montez has started the last two games after Sefo Liufau sprained his ankle in a game against Michigan. Liufau is in uniform and warmed up with the team before the game.

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USC names its starting lineup

USC has announced its starting lineups. As expected, right tackle Zach Banner (sprained ankle) is not listed as a starter. Tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe will get his first career start at tight end. Here are the full lineups:

Offense: Quarterback Sam Darnold, tailback Justin Davis, fullback Reuben Peters, right tackle Jordan Simmons, right guard Viane Talamaivao, center Nico Falah, left guard Damien Mama, left tackle Chad Wheeler, tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe, and receivers Darreus Rogers, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Steven Mitchell.

Defense: Linemen Malik Dorton, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu and Rasheem Green, linebackers Porter Gustin, Michael Hutchings, Cameron Smith and Uchenna Nwosu, cornerbacks Adoree’ Jackson and Iman Marshall and safeties Marvell Tell III and Leon McQuay III.

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USC and Colorado kick off in an hour

Can USC win a game in which it isn’t significantly favored?

The Trojans stabilized their season last week by defeating Arizona State, but the Sun Devils have one of the worst defenses in the Pac-12 Conference.

Colorado should offer a stiffer test. It already has gone on the road and impressed twice this season.

The Buffaloes took an early lead against No. 4 Michigan before special teams mistakes cost them the game. The next week, they defeated Oregon on the road, the program’s best win in years.

After this game, USC gets a brief break from its gantlet of a schedule, with three games in which it should be the favorite: against California, Arizona and a struggling Oregon team. A victory Saturday afternoon would give USC its first winning streak of the season, with a promising opportunity to make it longer.

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What to expect when USC plays Colorado

Redshirt freshman Sam Darnold is coming off a 352-yard, three-touchdown passing performance against Arizona State last week.
Redshirt freshman Sam Darnold is coming off a 352-yard, three-touchdown passing performance against Arizona State last week.
(Ryan Kang / Associated Press)

USC retains a glimmer of hope in the Pac-12 Conference South race.

After this game, the Trojans could be solid favorites in their next three games, until they play at Washington on Nov. 12.

USC Coach Clay Helton has said that his team has made big strides since a rocky start to the season.

A win here confirms it. A loss could all but extinguish USC’s division title hopes and would reopen questions about USC’s ability to finish with a winning record.

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The Buffaloes are looking to roam with a win

Colorado Coach Mike MacIntyre and his players sing along with the band after a 56-7 win over Idaho State on Sept. 10.
(Dustin Bradford / Getty Images)

In mid-July, five stories above the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a very unglamorous scene was taking shape at the Pac-12 Conference’s football media days.

Two days of coach and player news conferences were concluding with Colorado, the worst team in the Pac-12 since it joined in 2011. About the same time, it was announced that lunch was being served on a patio just outside the convention room.

A room full of reporters cleared out, as if under evacuation orders. The make-your-own sandwich bar was packed. Colorado Coach Mike MacIntyre’s news conference was not.

This was not what anyone had in mind when Colorado and Utah accepted bids to join what was then the Pacific-10 Conference in 2010. The Buffaloes, a power in the 1990s, were supposed to be the big haul. They were the first team the Pac-10 invited. Utah was a contingency plan.

Five miserable seasons later, as Utah has emerged as a regular Pac-12 South division contender, the merger could not have gone much worse for Colorado.

Quarterback Sefo Liufau and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie spent part of their allotted 25 minutes in a lonely corner of the room, whiling away the time with no one to speak to.

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