BOULDER – Owen McCown may not be playing on game days at this point for the Colorado Buffaloes, but he’s doing his best to help his team.
On Friday night, CU (1-8, 1-5 Pac-12) will visit No. 8 USC (8-1, 6-1) at the Los Angeles Coliseum (7:30 p.m., FS1). Perhaps the biggest challenge ahead of the Buffs is figuring how to defend Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams.
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One of the top candidates for the Heisman Trophy, Williams has thrown for 2,742 yards, 28 touchdowns and only one interception. He’s also rushed for 287 yards and four scores.
Beyond the numbers, Williams is exceptional at improvising and making something out of a play that looks like it’s going nowhere.
That’s where McCown comes into play. The true freshman, who started three games earlier this season for the Buffs, still has some limitations in terms of being physically ready to play in a game. But, he’s been helping the Buffs on their scout team, doing his best Williams impression.
“The thing that’s great is Owen McCown is playing that scout role right now,” interim head coach Mike Sanford said. “Certainly physically, he’s not at the same spot that Caleb is, but just in terms of style of player and extending the plays, Owen really has challenged our defense a lot this week in just extending plays, understanding coverages and how you need to plaster.”
When the quarterback scrambles, the defense has to plaster, or stick to the nearest receiver, especially because those receivers might break out of their original route to get open.
USC has had several big moments as a result of Williams and his receivers improvising during a play.
“That’s obviously a big part of what Caleb does,” Sanford said. “Really, if you look at (USC head coach) Lincoln Riley’s offensive background, a lot of the production does come on the second play. I think he recruits to that style. Most of his quarterbacks over the course of the last 10 years have been guys that are second-play players.”
USC has elite skill on the perimeter, especially if wideouts Jordan Addison and Mario Williams are able to play this week. Both have been injured but returned to practice Tuesday.
With or without Addison and Mario Williams, the Trojans are loaded, with Tahj Washington, former CU star Brenden Rice, Terrell Bynum, Kyle Ford, Kyron Hudson and Michael Jackson III.
Caleb Williams has proven his ability to create those second-play opportunities with his talented receivers, and he’s done it while avoiding mistakes. He is one of only two quarterbacks in the country with at least 15 touchdown passes and only one interception (Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall has 21 TDs and one pick).
“The thing that’s really incredible about USC right now, for having a quarterback that does so many things as a second play player – and frankly, there’s times where it looks like he’s throwing the ball between his legs, behind his back; there’s a lot a lot of stuff going on, a la Patrick Mahomes – it’s amazing that they have one turnover on the season,” Sanford said. “It’s almost mind boggling. … Especially with some of the, I would say they’re not risk-averse type plays. I mean, they’re risky throws. It just obviously goes to show the accuracy he has out of out of pocket.”
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