BOULDER — A furious Colorado rally in the second half came up just short Saturday as the Buffaloes dropped a 48-41 decision to eighth-ranked Southern California at sold-out Folsom Field.

Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders’ Buffs fell to 3-2 overall and 0-2 in Pac-12 play while the Trojans improved to 5-0, 3-0.

After another slow start, the Buffs were down 34-14 at the half and with just more than two minutes to go in the third quarter, the deficit had grown to 48-21.

But the Buffs rallied with three unanswered touchdowns in the final 16 minutes to narrow the gap to 48-41 with 1:43 still to play and it wasn’t until USC recovered an onside kick that the Trojans were able to run out the clock and escape with the win.

Colorado finished with 564 yards total offense, with 318 coming in the Buffs’ 27-point second half. Buffs quarterback Shedeur Sanders completed 30 of 45 attempts for 371 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. CU freshman receiver Omarion Miller — who had played 11 snaps prior to Saturday — finished with seven catches for 196 yards and a touchdown, with his first catch as a Buff covering 65 yards.

Colorado also rushed for a season-high 193 yards, led by 74 yards and a touchdown from Anthony Hankerson.

USC finished with 498 yards total offense. Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams completed 30 of 40 attempts for 403 yards, six touchdowns and an interception.

“A wonderful college football game,” Coach Prime said in his post-game press conference. “I just addressed the team and told them I love each and every one of them, coaches included, because they were resilient. They did not give up and they had multiple opportunities to give up. They fought to the end.”

HOW IT HAPPENED: For most of the first half, the game had all the markings of last week’s 42-6 loss at Oregon. Colorado’s offense struggled early, and with the help of some self-inflicted wounds by the Buffs, USC held a 34-7 lead with just 2:54 to play in the first half.

“We got to come out ready to play,” Sanders said. “I have to fix that myself personally. We can’t come out and make a surge right before halftime, then start saying, ‘OK, we’re in the game.'”

Early on, Colorado’s defense had no answer for Williams and the Trojans as USC scored five touchdowns on its first seven possessions.

But the Buffs also hurt themselves with first-half mistakes. CU’s Jace Feely missed a 41-yard field goal attempt, Shedeur Sanders threw his second interception of the season in CU territory and Buffs punter Mark Vassett had a kick blocked deep in Colorado territory.

The interception and blocked punt both led to short USC touchdown drives, mistakes Colorado couldn’t afford vs. a top-10 team.

But CU’s offense never quit. After USC took a 21-0 lead following the interception, the Buffs manufactured a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive. Hankerson had an 18-yard run, Dylan Edwards added an 8-yard rush and Sanders capped the drive with a 30-yard scoring pass to Jimmy Horn Jr. to cut USC’s lead to 21-7.

But Colorado’s offense couldn’t muster another sustained drive and the Trojans added two more scores. USC needed just three plays to score after the blocked punt, then added another score on a long drive when Williams connected with former Buff Brenden Rice for a 26-yard touchdown pass and 34-7 lead.

At that point, the game looked out of hand.

The Buffs, though, bounced back. Colorado responded with an 83-yard scoring march, with Sanders completing passes of 10 yards to Horn and 11 yards to Hankerson before an Edwards 8-yard run kept the drive alive on third-and-2.

Two plays later Sanderson scampered 25 yards up the middle to the end zone and the PAT pulled Colorado to within 34-14 at the half.

“We just had to lock in and understand this is not going to be a recap of what happened last week,” Shedeur said. “We’re just not going out like that.”

USC looked ready to put the game away in the third quarter. After not giving up a sack in the first half, the Buffs gave up two on their first two possessions of the second half and both led to Colorado punts.

The Trojans took over near midfield following CU’s second punt and drove 55 yards to the end zone, with Williams hitting Rice for a 6-yard score and his fifth TD pass of the game. The PAT gave USC a 41-14 lead with 7:14 still left in the third quarter.

But what looked like the end for Colorado actually marked the beginning of the Buffs’ big rally.

The Buffs took the ensuing kickoff and needed just 1:24 to score. Sanders threw a 65-yard completion to Miller to open the drive — Miller’s first catch as a Buff — and four plays later, Hankerson scored to pull CU back to within 41-21.

The Trojans answered again as Williams led a 75-yard scoring march, wrapping it up with his sixth TD pass of the game for a 48-21 lead.

But the Buffs punched back one more time. Sanders guided a 75-yard scoring march that included a 44-yard completion to Miller and a 21-yard scoring toss to tight end Michael Harrison. CU’s two-point try failed, but the Buffs were still back within three scores, 48-27.

Colorado’s defense then came up with its biggest play of the game to that point. CU safety Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig recorded an interception of Williams on USC’s next play from scrimmage — Williams’ first interception of the season — and the Buffs’ offense was back in business at its own 39.

It took the Buffs just four minutes to pull within two scores. Sanders guided an 11-play, 61-yard drive that included a 17-yard Horn run on a reverse. Colorado then went for it on fourth-and-5 from the USC 9 and Sanders delivered a 9-yard scoring stroke to Miller to cut the deficit to 48-34 with 11:55 still to play.

CU’s defense then came up with a big stop, forcing a USC punt. The Buffs drove to midfield but the drive ended when the Trojans recorded their third sack of the day, bringing Sanders down on fourth-and-5 to halt the drive.

That gave USC possession at the Colorado 44-yard line and a chance to put the game away. But the Trojans then missed a field goal after driving into CU territory and the Buffs responded again.

Colorado marched 78 yards to the end zone with Sanders throwing a 16-yard TD pass to Horn to pull the Buffs to within 48-41 with 1:43 to play.

But CU had no timeouts remaining. The Buffs attempted an onside kick after their score but USC recovered and was able to run out the clock and escape with the win.

“We just have to just fix the little issues that we’re having,” Coach Prime said. ” And I don’t know if that’s age, I don’t know if that’s just being new to the system. But overall, I’m really proud of the young men, the coaches, the fan base, the student body … I’m truly proud of the way we represented Boulder today.”

TURNING POINT: While it looked like just icing on the cake at the time, Williams’ sixth touchdown pass of the day that gave USC a 48-21 lead with 2:    14 left in the third quarter proved to be the decisive moment.

WHAT IT MEANS: The Buffs turned what could have been a blowout into a close game — and while it was still a loss, the end result will no doubt provide a healthy boost of confidence. The game should also be a boost to recruiting and Colorado’s national profile will almost certainly remain at a high.

NEXT UP: The Buffs hit the road next Saturday for a 4:30 p.m. (MT) matchup at Arizona State (Pac-12 Networks).


Story by Neill Woelk, Contributing Editor for Content courtesy of the University of Colorado at Boulder.