BOULDER, Colo. -- After dominating the first half of Saturday's much-anticipated matchup between USC and Colorado, the Trojans saw their comfortable lead nearly evaporate in the second half as their defense once again struggled to contain a dynamic offense in a 48-41 victory over the Buffaloes.
The result left head coach Lincoln Riley and the rest of his team in a familiar place: celebrating a win -- their fifth of the season -- while also bemoaning their shortcomings after they were outscored 27-14 in the second half. Overall, USC allowed over 500 yards of offense (more than their own offensive unit had), including 371 passing yards and four touchdowns by Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders, who excelled when moving outside of the pocket and finished with 50 net yards on the ground.
"We didn't play a very good second half really on any of the three sides," Riley said after the game. "We're going to own the win, we're going to own the mistakes, we're going to own the good, we're going to go back to work."
Riley's refrain has been a common one this season, and while there has much been consternation about the Trojans' defensive struggles and defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, Riley reiterated his commitment in Grinch when asked whether he still had faith in the coordinator.
"Yes, I do," Riley said.
Safety Bryson Shaw went a step further. The junior was adamant Grinch was not to blame for any defensive failures, saying it was instead the players who haven't executed in games this season.
"Coach Grinch, he's doing a great job. I mean, we're letting him down," Shaw said. "That's point-blank period. We're letting him down. I don't know what to tell y'all. As players, we are letting him down. I mean, he's putting us in the right spot. We're not making plays. We're missing tackles. We're not doing our job. I'm not doing my job. We're letting him down."
Shaw called the second-half performance "embarrassing" and said the defense needs to do whatever it can to fix it. One of the issues the unit appears to have is dealing with mobile quarterbacks. Sanders thrived when he stepped out of the pocket and found an open field in front of him, gaining chunks of yards and keeping several of Colorado's drives going.
"Coach Grinch, he'll sit in the meeting room. He'll preach it the whole time, 'Can't let the quarterback out the pocket, can't let the quarterback out the pocket,'" Shaw said. "What do we do? We let him out the pocket."
Shaw remained convinced the Trojans have the right players, coaches and scheme to fix things before it's too late. Linebacker Mason Cobb, echoed the sentiment, noting that what felt like a complete game in the first half is not going to be good enough to win going forward, but that the defense is committed to fixing issues and committed to Grinch.
"There's no other coach we'd ever have," Shaw said. "He's doing his job. We're not doing ours as players. That's all there is to it."
Riley, for his part, praised his players for their performance in a daunting road environment and was staunch in his belief that any failures this season are different than they were in his debut season with USC last year.
"When something doesn't go our way, it doesn't look like last year. Not to the trained eye, not to a coach," Riley said. "Now, we still got plenty to correct. There's a lot that's improved and we've obviously got to put it all together."
While the defense has allowed at least 349 yards in every game this season, any shortcomings haven't hurt USC's results. But as tougher opponents and more explosive offenses await, the urgency to correct and improve is high.