College Football
Big Noon Live Tailgate: Buffs rally late, but USC holds on for 48-41 win
College Football

Big Noon Live Tailgate: Buffs rally late, but USC holds on for 48-41 win

Updated Sep. 30, 2023 3:59 p.m. ET

This week's "Big Noon Kickoff" game featured a great matchup between high-profile Pac-12 coaches, as Lincoln Riley led his No. 8 USC Trojans into Boulder to take on Deion Sanders' Colorado Buffaloes.

In addition to full coverage of the game, we had a special treat this week — a live tailgate watch party during the game. I was joined by former USC quarterback Cody Kessler and former Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay, who shared stories from their playing days and provided live analysis through the entire game. You can go back and watch the entire show here:

As far as the game itself, it looked like it might end up being a USC blowout, as the Trojans led 34-14 at the half. But Colorado shut out the Trojans in the fourth quarter, pulling within a score before falling, 48-41.

Check out our wall-to-wall coverage of the game, with analysis from myself, Kessler and Lindsay!

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No. 8 USC 48, Colorado 41

Check out all the highlights from an amazing game!

Highlights: No. 8 USC holds off Colorado

Phillip Lindsay pays off the bet

A gutsy effort by his Buffaloes certainly made it easier for Lindsay to don a USC shirt after the game.

Phillip Lindsay puts on a USC shirt after losing bet to Cody Kessler

Lincoln Riley shares his thoughts on the win

USC's coach joined Jenny Taft after the game, saying that Colorado deserved credit for fighting back, but also wanting his team to improve on some areas moving forward.

Lincoln Riley speaks on Caleb Williams, USC's win

1:43 4Q: TOUCHDOWN COLORADO!

Shedeur Sanders' fourth touchdown pass of the game pulls Colorado within 48-41 with less than two minutes to go. The problem? Colorado was out of timeouts. Giving USC the ability to run out the rest of the clock.

Shedeur Sanders throws fourth TD as Colorado closes in

Phillip Lindsay and RJ Young react to Colorado's late comeback

6:00 4Q: Hooked it!

Colorado came up with a huge stop, keeping its deficit at 14 points after USC missed a field-goal try.

9:05 4Q: Big stop for Trojans

A sack can always prove to be a momentum-shifting play, and this one against Colorado could shorten the Buffs' odds of a comeback significantly.

12:03 4Q: TOUCHDOWN, COLORADO!

The Buffs pulled within two scores (48-34) on a clutch TD catch from Omarion Miller.

Colorado's Shedeur Sanders connects with Omarion Miller

1:03 3Q: INTERCEPTED!

You wanted a stop? Colorado finally got one, and it came on Caleb Williams' first interception of the season. If Colorado can drive in for another TD, we might have a game on our hands.

1:11 3Q: TOUCHDOWN COLORADO!

Michael Harrison added another TD for Colorado. While the Buffaloes haven't shown any interest in giving up, they're going to have to make some stops at some point if they want to get back in this one.

Colorado's Shedeur Sanders links up with Michael Harrison

2:16 3Q: Caleb tosses sixth TD

Caleb Williams threw his sixth TD pass of the game as the Trojans extended their lead to 48-21. At this point, he had 374 passing yards, too.

Caleb Williams finds Jude Wolfe for his sixth TD of the game

Story time: Cody Kessler ranks the Pac-12's top five quarterbacks

Caleb Williams, Michael Penix Jr., Shedeur Sanders and more!

6:00 3Q: BUFFS FIGHT BACK!

Anthony Hankerson punched one in to help Colorado pull within 41-21, showing there is no quit in Colorado.

Colorado's Anthony Hankerson punches in a touchdown

7:18 3Q: TOUCHDOWN, USC!

Caleb Williams tossed his fifth TD of the game — and Brenden Rice caught his second — as the Trojans extended their lead to 41-14.

By the way, Williams has thrown a touchdown pass in 19 straight games for USC (every single game of his Trojan career). That's the longest streak by a USC player since Matt Leinart recorded 24 straight games with a TD pass from 2003 to 2004.

Can Caleb Williams get better?

Cody Kessler thinks he can, and one area of focus for the star QB should be in learning how to protect himself.

Cody Kessler explains how USC's Caleb Williams can improve

10:48 3Q: USC brings the heat

USC hasn't seemed interested in letting Colorado get back into the game, as the Trojans have really started coming after Shedeur Sanders. Sanders has been sacked twice so far.

Fixes to make at halftime?

Deion Sanders stopped to talk with Jenny Taft about areas in which his Buffaloes needed to improve.

Deion Sanders on second-half adjustments to make

0:25 2Q: TOUCHDOWN, COLORADO!

The Buffs struck just before the half, which had to give them some hope heading into the break. Shedeur Sanders is going to have to do more of this in the second half for the Buffs to have a chance.

Colorado's Shedeur Sanders scrambles for a 25-yard TD

Phillip Lindsay and RJ Young react to Shedeur Sanders' long TD run

2:58 2Q: USC is pulling away

Caleb Williams' fourth TD of the game was a catch-and-run affair to Brenden Rice, making it 34-7.

Caleb Williams throws to Brenden Rice for a 26-yard TD

Fan question: Should Shedeur Sanders stay or go?

The trio had a lively discussion on the potential future for Colorado's star QB. 

Should Colorado's Shedeur Sanders stay in CFB next season?

7:34 2Q: Just like that, it's 27-7

USC and Caleb Williams struck quickly to squash any Colorado momentum, and Williams now has three touchdown passes.

Caleb Williams finds Mario Williams for a 24-yard TD

10:46 2Q: OUCH!

If you're USC, the last thing you ever want to see is Caleb Williams taking a hit like this.

Story time! Sharing thoughts on the transfer portal

Cody Kessler and Phillip Lindsay discuss how the transfer portal has changed their sport.

How the transfer portal affects CFB

13:04 2Q: TOUCHDOWN, COLORADO!

Just when things were starting to look pretty grim, the Buffs struck back, driving 75 yards in seven plays and capping it with a beautiful scoring pass from Shedeur Sanders to Jimmy Horn Jr.

Shedeur Sanders finds Jimmy Horn for a 30-yard TD

Phillip Lindsay and RJ Young react to Colorado's TD

14:55 2Q: USC firmly in control with another TD

Another touchdown, this time from Caleb Williams to Dorian Singer, gives the Trojans a 21-0 lead to start the second quarter. This one is in danger of getting away from the Buffs.

Caleb Williams links up with Dorian Singer for an 8-yard TD

Fan question: What if Caleb Williams was Deion Sanders' son?

OK this was a fun hypothetical …

Where would USC's Caleb Williams be ranked among Deion's kids?

3:01 1Q: TOUCHDOWN USC!

They say you can't let Caleb Williams get outside the pocket as that's where he's at his best. He showed why on a 71-yard touchdown pass that made it 14-0.

Caleb Williams connects with Tahj Washington for a 71-yard TD

Bend but don't break: Does it work?

Cody Kessler and I dove deep for a look at USC's defense under Alex Grinch.

Cody Kessler and RJ Young discuss Alex Grinch's USC defense

3:19 1Q: Buffs miss chance to get on the board

Colorado has a nice drive going, but USC's bend-don't-break defense held firm and the Trojans maintained their 7-0 lead after a missed field goal.

12:41 1Q: TOUCHDOWN USC!

Well that didn't take long. Six plays, 74 yards, and the Trojans took the lead on a 27-yard run by Marshawn Lloyd.

MarShawn Lloyd rushes for a 27-yard TD to give USC lead

Cody Kessler reacts to USC's early score

PREGAME SCENE

"Legendary is who I am" — Shedeur Sanders.

Shedeur Sanders on the season so far

How does Caleb Williams do it? Coach Meyer breaks it down.

Urban Meyer explains what makes USC's Caleb Williams so special

The Trojans will be without starting safety Max Williams today, and Buffs safety Shilo Sanders is reportedly doubtful.

FOX reporter Jenny Taft caught up with USC's Lincoln Riley before the game.

USC HC Lincoln Riley chats with Jenny Taft ahead of the game

Ingram is at it again.

Coach Prime is hoping to become the first Colorado coach to beat USC.

Deion Sanders on his mentors, Colorado, Caleb Williams and more

USC WR Zachariah Branch was spotted in sweats on the sideline ahead of the matchup. 

After a tough loss last week, can Colorado bounce back?

Can Colorado bounce back this week against USC?

Chef Gordon Ramsey will always speak his mind. 

Gordon Ramsay insults your favorite College Football team | Big Noon Kickoff

Two of the Boston Celtics former Big 3 have arrived.

Comedian David Spade gave his thoughts on college football's most fired up coaches.

Coach Prime met Ralphie in a pretty intense way!

Is Williams the next Mahomes?

Keyshawn Johnson compares USC's Caleb Williams to Patrick Mahomes | Big Noon Kickoff

Undisputed co-host and USC alum Keyshawn Johnson joined in on the fun in Colorado.

DJ Khaled is here for all the Coach Prime hype and getting things done the 'Shedeur Way'.

Chris "The Bear" Fallica weighed in on the Pac-12.

Mark Ingram started the day with some Sumo wrestling in Boulder.

What do Buffaloes do? They stampede!

PREGAME Q&A

What do you think of what Deion Sanders has accomplished so far at Colorado?

Phillip Lindsay: What Coach Prime has done, nobody has ever seen in college football, and definitely not here in Colorado. The Prime Effect is definitely for real. 

I think for the USC game, they're having people like LeBron James, Jay-Z, I think Will Ferrell is going because of USC. Every home game, there is something exciting going on. Every home game he has some kind of superstar there. When Lil Wayne was there, they got a free concert, pretty much. For that to take place in Boulder has never been done. It's exciting. The fans deserve it. The players get to see a different side that nobody has ever got to see.

To me, it does remind me of USC when Reggie Bush and LenDale White were all there, and they were having all those superstars at the games every week. So the Prime Effect is in full effect and to see a team like that go 1-11, and now they're 3-1, there's so much buzz in Colorado, that you have to talk about this every single day. Coach Prime brings something to the table every single day.

What we see here has never been done, and it's scary to a lot of other coaches out there because it's a great recruiting mechanism. I'm excited. They're playing great ball. It's gonna be a great game. It's a 10 o'clock game, which could be to our advantage. The Broncos aren't doing well right now, so right now the talk of the town is the Colorado Buffaloes, and that's a great feeling.

Cody Kessler: It has been so much fun to watch. After seeing those clips from the game [against TCU]. I told everybody that day that Deion, the way he gets his team to believe in themselves, and the speeches that he was giving pregame, saying, "Hey, we're not coming anymore, we're here. We've arrived." You could really see the look in those players' eyes. 

Just hearing the way he speaks to his team, and how excited they are ... if you're the first-ranked team in the country, or you're all the way down at the bottom, whatever it might be, when you get a group of guys that can believe in one another and believe in their head coach and believe in the culture — and it's kind of the same thing that Lincoln's done at USC, right?

Speaking of Lincoln Riley, can you compare what he has done in two years at USC to what Sanders has done at Colorado?

Kessler: USC the year prior [to Riley's arrival] was 4-8 and had some bad years leading up to that. Lincoln gets hired and the expectations for me personally were maybe five or six wins, maybe seven wins. That'd be great. It was as fast a turnaround as I've ever seen, and it was kind of what Deion's doing right now at Colorado.

For me, it has been so fun to watch, and I think [Sanders] already exceeded expectations — not in the sense of wins and losses, but in the sense of no matter what happens the rest of the year, Colorado has won. They created all this hype around them. Deion is going to get so many recruits off of all this. And especially if you're a defensive player, what better place to go than Colorado right now? Why not go play for Deion Sanders?

It's just so much fun and I can remember when Colorado was this exciting, especially in the Pac-12 since I was playing.

Lindsay: I'm not surprised that it happened because of how Coach Riley is and what he has done in the past with his other teams. Also, you're dealing with USC, which obviously every year is in it. When I was playing against USC, they always had talent. 'SC always has these sculptured players who look like statues. I'm not surprised that he has been able to take USC and make them contenders for the national championship.

It's a test for Coach Prime's players. 'SC right now is more established. Also, let's face it, 'SC has a richer history. Their history is rich with winning and championships. A place like that is never a rebuild. The ammunition is there. It's about having the right coach, and they have a good coach at this point.

USC's defense was an issue last season. Are you confident it will be better in 2023?

Kessler: Defensively, I think the depth is a huge positive. They added Kyon Barrs from Arizona, they added Bear Alexander, they added Jamil Muhammad, who's been a pleasant surprise. Anthony Lucas is another. And you see flashes of how good they can be. 

It's just that for me, [they need to make] it consistent. You look at Stanford the week before the bye, and it looks like you could have a top-five defense in the entire country. Then we play Arizona State, a team that was shut out the week prior by Fresno State, and you see third-and-10, giving up a 15-yard touchdown run. 

We're leading Power 5 in sacks, we're leading Power 5 in tackles for loss, we're leading Power 5 in forced fumbles, but it's about putting everything together. You can only get away with it for so long in these shootouts. … When you start seeing those cracks, and Caleb can't keep up, or the offense can't keep up, that's why everyone's so worried about it. I want to see more consistency, no more bend-don't-break.

On the Colorado side, can you describe how impressive Travis Hunter was before his injury?

Lindsay: I knew that Travis was really good, but he's on a different scale. He's playing both ways. He's very talented, and he's going to make a lot of money when it's time for him to go to the next level — he's already making a lot of money. … It does suck that Travis isn't gonna play this week, with a lacerated liver, that's big time. 

Kessler: I can't believe it, and I'm a quarterback. [QBs] go 70-80 snaps, 60-70 snaps in Sark's offense when we go fast-paced, I'm tired, and I'm not even running around. For Travis Hunter to be able to go 60-plus on defense, 50-plus on offense, and it's not like he's out there just as a decoy. He's putting up numbers. The TCU game was unbelievable. That he's putting up these numbers while playing over 100 snaps a game, is unbelievable.

Is it possible for Caleb Williams to actually be better this season?

Kessler: For me, one of the biggest things for him, and he said it himself in the spring, was "I want to go 60 touchdowns, no interceptions." Is it possible? Yeah. Is it probable? Only time will tell. He's off to a great start (15 TD passes and no interceptions).

I don't want to take away from his playmaking ability, but you can tell how much smarter he's being with the football this season. As a quarterback who is so explosive, who can turn nothing into something, who can extend plays the way he does, sometimes you see them throw up plays that might give defenders a chance. Sometimes he tries to force throws. Outside of Arizona State, maybe one or two plays, I feel like he's really taking that next step — knowing when to go down, knowing when the play's over, knowing when to protect myself and go to the next play.

He's a generational player. Now it seems like mentally he has taken that next step in reading defenses, pre-snap looks, all of that stuff. As much as I didn't know how he could get better and take it to the next step, it seems like he already has.

Should Colorado QB Shedeur Sanders follow Williams to the NFL, or return for another season?

Lindsay: I think it'll be smarter for him to stay back and be the first overall pick [in 2025]. We all know Coach Prime said before that they were seven or eight "dawgs" away from being where he really wants to be, and it shows. Offensive and defensive lines are always going to dominate in college football, and if you don't have that up front, you're not winning a lot of games. So when they finally get that figured out, Shedeur is going to be able to have more time in the backfield because the offensive line is improved, and you're gonna see a lot more big plays from him.

He's already reading the field. He's doing that and a lot of young NFL quarterbacks now aren't even doing that. If he can get some offensive linemen who can hold up for him and if he can get some time, then yes, in 2025 he will be the first pick overall.

How do you think this game will play out? Can Colorado win?

Kessler: If you had asked me that the first three weeks I would've said "no shot." And that's looking at it from the USC side of things. USC was playing such dominant football, I didn't think it would matter. But then against Arizona State, we saw some pre-snap penalties, we saw some unforced turnovers. Then we had a false start, then we had some delay of games. We had some issues and I thought, "OK, maybe we're not as fine-tuned as I thought we were."

The short answer for me is, I would like to say no, that USC should run away with this one, but it depends on what Trojans team shows up. If we have some issues, like we did last week starting slow at Arizona State, struggling with snap counts, giving ourselves third-and-20s, not getting off the field on defense, and letting Colorado hang in it, especially at home, then I think it's gonna be a little closer than we expect.

Lindsay: Colorado doesn't necessarily need to upset USC, because 'SC all around is better than Colorado at this point. And when I say that, I'm seeing more the offensive and defensive linemen. But they need to make this competitive. They need to put some drives together.

It's at home, and there is something in the air when you go to Folsom Field, which can help you out. The altitude helps us out. But we need to make this competitive the whole entire game. And if we can get an upset — and I keep calling this a trap game for USC, because USC is riding high right now, and Colorado came off a butt-whupping.

So it's a 10 o'clock kickoff. Colorado needs to come out mad, angry. And 'SC kind of stays where they are, the defense hasn't been that great, it should be a high-scoring game. And at this point, that's what people want to see.

PREGAME READING

How Caleb Williams and Shedeur Sanders measure up as NFL prospects: USC's star QB Williams remains the favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft next spring. But game film reveals that Colorado's Sanders is pretty good himself, and in some areas is even better. NFL Draft expert Rob Rang breaks it down.

Week 5 wagering: Chris "The Bear" Fallica shares predictions for his favorite Week 5 matchups. Read more.

Breaking down USC-Colorado: Our experts dive deep to share everything they'll be looking for in the big game. Read more.

 A real threat?: We all know that Colorado can challenge USC, but by how much? Martin Rogers has the story.

The biggest challenge yet: Can Deion Sanders help his Buffaloes bounce back after a difficult loss to Oregon last week? Bryan Fischer breaks down Coach Prime's challenge.

And more reading around the sport …

Michigan's secret weapon: ‘Nobody is this good’: The Wolverines have a strength coach who even Jim Harbaugh credits with playing an outsized role in turning the program around. Michael Cohen has the story on Ben Herbert.

What's next for Kyle McCord?: Ohio State's first-year starter QB came up huge in the victory over Notre Dame, and the Buckeyes have high hopes moving forward. Check out the story from Laken Litman.

Do you want more great stories delivered right to you? Here's how you can create or log in to your FOX Sports account, follow your favorite leagues, teams and players and receive a personalized newsletter in your inbox daily.

PREGAME NUMBERS TO KNOW

16-0: The Trojans are undefeated against the Buffs. 

No. 1: QB Caleb Williams currently leads the nation in total touchdowns (18), yards per pass attempt (11.88) and passing efficiency (223.1).

1995: The last time USC opened a season with four-straight wins by 14-plus points.

3: The Trojans' offense ranks No. 3 in the country in total offense (569.2), team passing efficiency (204.82) and passing offense (377.2).

5: Number of players who have caught a TD this season for Colorado, which includes Xavier Weaver, Jimmy Horn, Tar'Varish Dawson, Michael Harrison and Dylan Edwards.

23: Number of sacks the Buffs have allowed this season, which is more than any Power 5 school.

352.5: Passing YPG by QB Shedeur Sanders — second-most in the FBS this season behind Washington QB Michael Penix.

[More numbers to know in Week 5 games]

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast "The Number One College Football Show." Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to "The RJ Young Show" on YouTube.

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