USC must beat Colorado for a shot at South Division title

Colorado wide receiver Nelson Spruce, catching a pass against Hawaii earlier this season, leads the nation with 62 receptions, 10 of which went for touchdowns.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

USC remains in the hunt for the Pac-12 Conference South Division title but cannot afford a letdown against improving Colorado, which has never defeated the Trojans. Staff writer Gary Klein examines the story lines and matchups:

Happy homecoming

USC probably picked the right opponent for a homecoming game. The Trojans are 8-0 in their football series against Colorado.


The smallest margin of victory in the series was a 17-14 win at the Coliseum in 2002. In four games since, USC has outscored the Buffaloes, 179-55.

Fresh faces

Freshman John Plattenburg, who played as a reserve last week at Arizona, could start at safety for USC.

If he does, he will join offensive linemen Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao, receiver JuJu Smith and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson as first-year players to start games this season.

Colorado’s defense could be known as the baby Buffaloes. “We’ve got to be the youngest defense in America,” Coach Mike MacIntyre said.

MacIntyre said 16 to 17 players who rotate in on defense are freshmen, redshirt freshmen or sophomores.


Snap to it

USC quarterback Cody Kessler has completed 143 of 207 passes (69%) for 1,656 yards and 11 touchdowns, with one interception. The junior ranks 27th nationally in passing efficiency, but his coaches want him to start pulling the trigger on longer routes.

Colorado’s Sefo Liufau has passed for a touchdown in 14 consecutive games dating to last season.

Liufau, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound third-year sophomore, has completed 188 of 288 passes (65%) for 1,887 yards and 19 touchdowns, with seven interceptions. He ranks 51st nationally in passing efficiency.

Here’s the catch

Colorado receiver Nelson Spruce, who played at Westlake Village Westlake High, ranks first nationally with 62 catches, 10 for touchdowns.

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound junior also ranks fifth with 732 receiving yards, an average of 122 yards per game.

Shay Fields, a freshman from Bellflower St. John Bosco High who was once committed to USC, has 33 receptions, two for touchdowns.

USC’s Nelson Agholor has 42 receptions, four for touchdowns.

Making a run

USC tailback Javorius Allen has rushed for more than 100 yards in all but one game. Last week against Arizona, he ran for a career-best 205 yards and scored three touchdowns.

Allen is averaging 130.2 yards rushing per game, which ranks 11th nationally. He also is the Trojans’ second-leading receiver with 23 catches, one for a touchdown.

Colorado running back Christian Powell averages 54.8 yards a game, Tony Jones 32.2.

Line them up

Leonard Williams, USC’s star defensive end, was held out of practice this week because of shoulder soreness but is expected to play. Williams has four sacks, an interception and has forced a fumble.

Tackle Claude Pelon recorded his first sack and blocked a field-goal attempt against Arizona.

USC has recorded 11 sacks. Colorado has given up eight.

End Derek McCartney has four sacks for Colorado, linebacker Addison Gillam 2 1/2. Sophomore safety Tedric Thompson has three interceptions.

Special delivery

USC kicker Andre Heidari sat out against Arizona because of a groin injury, but he is expected to play against Colorado. Heidari has made six of eight field-goal attempts. Alex Wood might handle kickoffs.

Adoree’ Jackson of USC averages 28.6 yards per kickoff return, which ranks 10th nationally.

Colorado punter Darragh O’Neill ranks ninth nationally, averaging 46.1 yards per kick.

Buffaloes kicker Will Oliver has made five of nine field-goal attempts.

Twitter: @latimesklein