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Trojans look to unleash horses on Buffaloes

The offensive rhythm that evaded No. 11 USC at times through its first eight games clicked over its last two.

With the Trojans putting up 97 points in their last two games, they have the opportunity to seal the 2017 Pac-12 South Division against the team that won it in 2016: Colorado.

USC (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12) bounced back from an anemic performance at Notre Dame on Oct. 21, in which it scored 14 points with 78 total rushing yards. The Trojans rolled up 331 yards on the ground in a 49-35 victory over Arizona on Nov. 4, which put USC in the driver's seat for a Pac-12 Championship Game berth.

The Trojans need only to win one of their two final games -- Saturday at Folsom Field against Colorado or Nov. 18 at home versus UCLA -- or have both Arizona and Arizona State lose once in their final three.

In order to handle things on its own, USC will lean on a rushing attack that regained its swagger with 672 rushing yards in the past two games, against the Arizona schools.

Leading the way for this run game resurgence, running back Ronald Jones II put up 410 rushing yards in the past two weeks. He sets his sights on a Colorado defense that surrendered 381 yards on the ground in a 41-30 loss at Arizona State.

"What a tremendous back he is," USC coach Clay Helton said. "We really felt these last two games he's the healthiest he's been all season, and these last two games, we really needed to lean on the running game because of the offenses we were facing."

Keeping pace with potentially potent offenses motivated the USC offense the last two weeks, and should once again drive the Trojans in their final road game of 2017. The Buffaloes (5-5, 2-5) have outputs of 42, 36 and 44 points among their last five games.

While USC rolls with Jones -- who sits nine yards shy of surpassing LenDale White and 19 away from passing Reggie Bush to become the Trojans' No. 7 all-time rusher -- Colorado counters with Phillip Lindsay.

The do-everything Lindsay ranks eighth nationally in rushing yards per game (133.4) and fourth in total rushing yards (1,334). Lindsay is the star of a senior class that Colorado is honoring before Saturday's kickoff as part of the program's Senior Day festivities.

The 2017 Colorado senior class played an integral role in turning the Buffs around from annual Pac-12 South cellar dwellers into division champions. With a win Saturday, coach Mike MacIntyre noted they would become the first Colorado senior class to reach back-to-back bowl games since 2005.

"This group of young men has meant a tremendous amount to our program," MacIntyre said. "They've seen us go from not being competitive at all, to being competitive all the time ... Now Phillip Lindsay? Wow. He's a legend, I think. He's in the record books."

If there's one more mark Lindsay can leave in the annals of Colorado football history, it would be a big one: The program's first win over USC.

Last October's 21-17 loss -- Colorado's sole defeat in Pac-12 regular-season play -- dropped the Buffs to 0-11 all-time against the Trojans.

Win or lose, a score similar to last season's seems unlikely. The Colorado defense has surrendered 35 points per game over its last five, including 41 last week to Arizona State.

Conversely, the resurgence USC has experienced on offense goes beyond Jones -- running back Aca'Cedric Ware added 122 yards the last time out -- and beyond the run game.

Wide receiver Deontay Burnett came into 2017 expected to take over the role of No. 1 target for quarterback Sam Darnold, and has done so with 832 yards receiving and eight touchdowns. Where else USC would get receiving production was less certain.

Freshman Tyler Vaughns began filling a void in September, and over the past two games, Steven Mitchell and Michael Pittman Jr. have stepped up their production. Mitchell scored a touchdown against Arizona and Pittman pulled in 59 yards, tied for a team high.

The names may have been unknown coming into the season, but MacIntyre said it was only a matter of time before USC found its playmakers.

"USC has always had four or five receivers (who) will get drafted, it seems like, since it's been in existence," MacIntyre said. "It's nothing new to USC. And with the quarterback they have, and the way he can extend plays, it makes it even tougher."

Darnold played his best back-to-back games of 2017 in the last two, completing 20 of 26 for 311 yards with two touchdowns against Arizona, and 19 of 35 for 266 yards with three scores at Arizona State. He was intercepted only once in that stretch.

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