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No. 19 Colorado knocked from unbeaten ranks as USC scores wild Saturday’s final upset

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It was a wild Saturday in college football filled with top 25 upsets across the board. Pac-12 After Dark was sure to get a pelt on the wall as well.

USC quarterback J.T. Daniels threw two first quarter interceptions but bounced back in a big way as the Trojans knocked No. 19 Colorado from the ranks of the unbeaten 31-20 on Saturday night and managed to reinsert the defending champions back into the driver’s seat of the Pac-12 South.

Daniels, who tossed one of those picks on the first play of the game, basically was the Trojans offense on the night as the program known for ‘Student Body Right’ had just seven yards rushing at halftime and didn’t improve much on that number as the game wore on. The freshman signal-caller wound up with 272 yards passing and three touchdowns when all was said and done in the game, giving the half-full crowd a few things to cheer about while keeping head coach Clay Helton a perfect 19-0 at the L.A. Coliseum as head coach of the cardinal and gold.

Michael Pittman Jr. led the way as Daniels’ best friend, recording 144 yards on just five catches — two of which went for scores, one from 65 yards out. Tyler Vaughns also found the end zone through the air in an encouraging sign for USC’s receivers breaking out at the right time as they hit a critical stretch in conference play.

Defensively, the Trojans were able to put together one of the best efforts of the season. Ajene Harris recorded a pick-six in the second half that essentially put this result to bed and they held the Buffs to one of their worst performances on the offensive end in some time. That they did so without captain and star middle linebacker Cameron Smith spoke volumes and especially so given that his replacement, freshman Palaie Gaoteote, suffered a concussion (on a questionable play that also could have been called for targeting) and the team was forced to put a walk-on in the middle of the field.

As for Colorado, it was a night to forget for the program as they finally slipped up against a team with a winning record on the season. The big plays defensively were one thing but the lack of any real productivity on offense all but doomed Mike MacIntyre’s group in a game they generally had control of until a few minute stretch before halftime turned things on its head.

Quarterback Steven Montez threw for only 168 yards and one interception on a night where he mostly had to check it down whenever he wasn’t being pressured (which was quite often). He didn’t get any help from the rushing attack and the score made the Buffs one-dimensional as things wound down.

All-purpose star Laviska Shenault scored on a wild 49 yard run out of the wildcat formation to help lead the team in rushing and receiving (72 yards) but it wasn’t enough. He was one of a number of key players who got banged up during the game too, missing most of the fourth quarter with an injury that isn’t too concerning going forward but did keep him out down the stretch.

The end result not only gives CU their first loss of the season and keeps them from hitting bowl eligibility at the midway mark, but also shakes up the Pac-12 South race and all but certainly drops the Pac-12 out of the College Football Playoff race at the same time given events elsewhere in the league. The flip side is it makes USC the team to beat once again as they try to defend their crown following another slow start to the year. The trip to Salt Lake City next weekend to play Utah very well could determine the division and who makes that trip to Santa Clara as a result.

The Trojans seem to have a knack for getting better as the year gets going and the Buffs found that out first hand to cap off another crazy Saturday night.

J.T. Daniels bounces back to help USC to halftime lead over No. 19 Colorado

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USC’s true freshman quarterback bounced back from a rough first quarter to throw a trio touchdown passes and help the Trojans secure a 21-7 lead at halftime in a pivotal Pac-12 South battle with No. 19 Colorado at the Coliseum on Saturday night.

After an extremely ugly (and slow) start for both sides, it was the Buffs that started to get things going in the second quarter thanks to, who else, all-everything star Laviska Shenault. The receiver not only led his team in yardage through the air, but he was also CU’s leading rusher thanks to a 49 yard rushing touchdown for the game’s first points. QB Steven Montez couldn’t find his favorite target as much as he would have liked to, being forced to check down plenty while completing 14 passes for only 60 yards and taking a number of sacks.

Opposite number J.T. Daniels wasn’t any sharper early for USC but rebounded as the game went on deep into the cool Los Angeles night. Following two first quarter interceptions (one of the first offensive snap of the game), the freshman signal-caller started launching bombs to his wideouts down the field and seemed to find plenty of success as a result. All told, Daniels threw for 255 yards in the half and found both Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman Jr. (twice) for a trio of touchdowns all told.

The Trojans didn’t have any sort of ground game to lean on at all with a paltry seven yards rushing, making the throws their quarterback was making even more impressive. They also limited the Buffs’ ground attack, aside from the Shenault run, despite the absence of senior linebacker Cameron Smithwho was in street clothes for the game with an injury.

This is the biggest test yet for undefeated Colorado against the defending conference champions and doubles as the first of several key games in the South Division for both sides. There was already a shakeup in the North earlier in the day and as #Pac12AfterDark started setting in L.A., it appears one on the other side of the league is starting to take hold as well given the way this one is trending.

No. 10 USC jumps out to halftime lead over No. 12 Stanford in Pac-12 Championship Game

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Pac-12 After Dark appears to be stuck in traffic, but it’s getting there.

A somewhat dull college football game got a lot more exciting in the closing minutes of the second quarter at the Pac-12 Championship on Friday evening, as No. 10 USC methodically grabbed a 17-14 halftime lead over No. 12 Stanford in a rematch for a title at Levi’s Stadium.

Not surprisingly, star quarterback Sam Darnold was at the center of most of the action. The signal-caller finished the half with 171 yards passing and a pair of scores, the first a touchdown pass off play-action to Michael Pittman from seven yards out to light up the scoreboard first. The two hooked up again in the closing minutes for a big 40 yard gain that later setup a short Tyler Vaughns catch and run right to the pylon.

Running back Ronald Jones was a pretty big part of the offense too, rushing for 75 yards and helping churn out long drives to control the clock against a team that entered the game on short rest.

Stanford’s offense was a little hit or miss but seemed to start rolling toward the end of each quarter. Aided by several penalties, Bryce Love (only 37 yards rushing) found the end zone from nine yards out for the team’s first points but there was not much in the way of explosive plays from the Cardinal after a half of play. Quarterback K.J. Costello did pick up a few first downs with his arm as time was winding down and finished with 76 yards in the air while Cameron Scarlett punched in the other touchdown from a yard out.

The two in-state rivals are both battling a little history on either side of this one. Stanford is 3-0 in the championship game since the conference started it in 2011, while the North Division overall is undefeated in the event. On the flip side, USC hasn’t captured the league title in nearly a decade and are hoping to defeat the Cardinal for a second time this season.

Ronald Jones, Sam Darnold help No. 21 USC bounce back to beat Arizona State

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The month of October was a bizarre one in the Pac-12 as teams zigged while you thought they were going to zag. Nobody embodied that more than No. 21 USC and Arizona State entering the weekend.

The Trojans’ normally high-powered offense was stuck in neutral. The Sun Devils’ defense was punching way, way above their weight. As a pivotal Pac-12 South battle loomed, would these strange trends continue on Pac-12 After Dark? The answer: no, not at all. Sam Darnold and USC broke out of their slump to bounce back and beat ASU on Saturday night in Tempe, using numerous big plays to capture a 48-17 victory that probably wasn’t even as close as the final score line would indicate.

The one time Heisman favorite had one of his best outings of the season after a disastrous result in South Bend last week, tossing three touchdown passes and racking up 266 yards all told against a defense that had stymied some pretty solid passers the past few weeks. Wideout Tyler Vaughns was the recipient of most of those passes and continued his stellar play by posting career highs of 126 yards and two scores. The tandem was so impressive one almost forgot about Rose Bowl hero Deontay Burnett as he had a quiet night despite 49 yards and a trip to the end zone.

Not be outdone, running back Ronald Jones returned to his early season form and racked up 216 yards on the ground. The junior was a big play machine in the dry desert air too, bursting through the line for a pair of 60+ yard scores on the night.

The Trojans’ 607 yards of offense had spoiled a good month on defense for Todd Graham’s Sun Devils. A terrible third down performance (1/12 in the game) and mediocre run game didn’t help their efforts either. Quarterback Manny Wilkins threw for 259 yards but found the end zone, somewhat incredibly, only once under wild circumstances.

That came right at the end of the first half after the signal-caller launched a bomb toward the end zone. The play was initially ruled a catch at the one yard line but was reviewed and eventually ruled as a touchdown on the longest Hail Mary play in recent college football history. The teams were eventually brought back from the locker room to kick the extra point but in the end, it will go down as a footnote in this one.

The victory by the Trojans keeps them in the lead for the Pac-12 South title and presents quite the interesting game in the Coliseum next Saturday. USC is set to host Arizona in what is looking very much like a fascinating battle between some pretty explosive offenses based on how this weekend has turned out.

No. 21 USC leads Arizona State at halftime despite Sun Devils’ whacky Hail Mary

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No. 21 USC has been struggling on the offensive end the past few weeks. Arizona State has been stingy on the defensive side. Naturally, the two decided to do a body switch on Halloween weekend. As a result, the Trojans did almost whatever they wanted down in the desert, taking a 31-10 lead into halftime in a huge Pac-12 South battle few could have seen coming a few weeks ago.

The cardinal and gold offensive explosion not surprisingly came at the hands of quarterback Sam Darnold, who had one of his best outings in weeks by throwing for 217 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. Looking a lot more like that top draft many touted him to be early in the year, he also added a career-long 39 yard run to boot. Running back Ronald Jones chipped in with a 67 yard touchdown run on his way to a 120 yard effort through two quarters.

On the receiving end of many of those Darnold passes was receiver Tyler Vaughns. The young wide out has steadily become a bigger part of the offense and was already up to 94 yards and two scores prior to going to the locker room at the break.

USC also had a pretty strong defensive effort too — up until the final play of the half. Manny Wilkins completed only eight passes and Arizona State managed just two sustained drives all told but one was thanks to an N'Keal Harry 70 yard catch and the other was part of a wild Hail Mary as time expired. The play was reviewed numerous times before it actually resulted in points going on the board and required the two teams to come back from the locker room in order to kick the extra point.

We’ve come to think that Pac-12 games going late into the night will have some whacky ending and while this one appeared over, perhaps that Hail Mary is only the start of strange things to come.