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Deion Sanders searching for Colorado's identity after loss to USC: 'I don't know who we are'

BOULDER, Colo. – Deion Sanders told the world last week that his Colorado Buffaloes never would be as bad as they were in their last game against Oregon.

One game later, it looked like he was wrong. The Buffs stumbled early again and fell behind by 27 points in the first half.

But then came the magic: Quarterback Shedeur Sanders, his son, kept fighting. A new star was born in the second half. And then the Colorado football team pulled to within seven points in the final two minutes before falling short against No. 6 Southern California, 48-41.

“I’m really proud,” Sanders said after his team outscored USC in the second half, 27-14.

In the end, he said it came down to one thing:

“What’s our identity?” Sanders said. “I don’t know who we are. I don’t know what we gonna do. From practice to practice, I do, but we’ve got to translate (it) into the games. So we're still searching for our true identity.”

The loss drops Colorado to 3-2 after starting the season 3-0 and then suffering a blowout loss last week at Oregon, 42-6.

What happened?

For a while, this week seemed like a replay of last week, when the Buffs faced another high-scoring heavyweight and fell behind 35-0 at halftime. This time, Colorado fell behind 34-7 late in the second quarter before there were signs of life in front of a national television audience on Fox and another sellout crowd at Folsom Field (54,032).

As it turned out, USC quarterback Caleb Williams proved to be too much for Colorado. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner threw four touchdown passes in the first half and finished with six on 30-of-40 passing for 403 yards with one interception for the Trojans (5-0).

“That kid is a flat-out baller,” Sanders said.

So is Sanders’ son, Shedeur, the quarterback who nearly rallied the Buffs all the way back before a late onside kick attempt for Colorado failed in the final two minutes, letting USC run out the clock. The last Colorado touchdown came with 1:43 remaining, when Shedeur Sanders found receiver Jimmy Horn in the middle of the field for a 16-yard touchdown pass.

“We just can’t get bored with the easy things,” Shedeur Sanders said. “We just had to lock in and understand, look, this is not gonna be a recap of last week.”

It was not, in large part because a new star surfaced for Colorado – freshman receiver Omarion Miller. He finished with seven catches for a freshman school record 196 yards and one touchdown, a 9-yard reception on fourth-and-5. The latter play took vision and precision from Shedeur Sanders, who rolled right and found Miller behind a USC defender as he was sliding down. It helped cut USC’s lead to 48-34 with 11:55 remaining.

Who is Omarion Miller?

Miller is a four-star recruit from Vivian, Louisiana, a small town in the northwest part of the state. Before the second half of Saturday’s game, he had never caught a pass in college. Now he’s a budding star getting love from Michael Irvin, the former Dallas Cowboys star receiver and friend of Deion Sanders.

“It was crazy,” Miller said. “I dreamt about playing like this last night.”

Afterward, even Sanders expressed surprise at Miller’s performance. Sanders said Miller hadn’t played much before Saturday because he didn’t show it in practice.

“I didn’t think we was gonna get that from (Miller),” Sanders said. “I hadn’t seen that yet.”

Shedeur Sanders also had to remind reporters how to pronounce his teammate’s name. It's oh-MAR-ee-on, according to the quarterback. And his first college catch was a 65-yarder in the third quarter that helped ignite Colorado's flurry of scoring drives at the end, after they had fallen behind 41-14.

“Everybody, it’s my man Omarion,” said Shedeur Sanders, who completed 30 of 45 passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns with one interception.

Miller has up to three more seasons to play after this one. Shedeur Sanders has one more year left at Colorado in 2024 unless he elects to turn pro before then.

“If you can’t see what’s coming with CU football, you’ve lost your mind, you just a flat-out hater” Deion Sanders said. “If you can’t see what’s going on, what’s gonna transpire over the next several months, something’s wrong with you.”

What happened after halftime?

It didn’t help Colorado that it was facing Williams without three top players in its defensive backfield because of injuries – star cornerback receiver Travis Hunter, starting safety Shilo Sanders and Myles Slusher, a safety transfer from Arkansas.

“No excuses, but three short, three starters short in the secondary,” Deion Sanders said.

That pressed safety Rodrick Ward into more extensive action. Ward, a graduate transfer from Southern Utah, had only recorded three tackles before Saturday. He finished with nine total tackles Saturday and said the Buffs “calmed down” after halftime and “had their eyes in the right place.”

The Colorado defense then cut USC’s yards per play from 10.1 in the first half to 5.2 in the second half.

Offensively, Colorado outgained USC 564-498 yards overall after its strong finish behind Shedeur Sanders. He led the Buffs to touchdowns on four of their final five possessions, reminding him of his first game for Colorado on Sept. 2, when the Buffs beat TCU 45-42.

“Today we kind of got a glimpse of who our identity is when we play good football,” Shedeur Sanders said. “And we really hadn’t had a taste of that until, you know, since our Week One. We know no matter what, no matter what happens, we gotta go out there and score every drive. That’s where I feel like we got our mindset in the second half.”

Deion Sanders describes his team’s progress

“Coach Prime” indicated that his team didn’t need a fiery halftime speech to light up in the second half.

“I ain’t got time to be trying to fire you up and give you the most dynamic speech that I can craft intellectually and use some true words that I have look up in my vocabulary and the … thesaurus,” Deion Sanders said. “I ain’t got time for that today. I just wanted them to come out there. I want them to lift me up, you know, motivate me and encourage me, not that I needed it. But I wanted to flip the script on them, because I knew what they had in them, and all they had to do was believe. And regardless of the color of the uniforms on the opposing teams, they just have to believe. And it’s something they’re doing, week in and week out. It’s growing.”

He also detailed what he wants his team to be eventually. He didn’t see it Saturday.

“The team I imagined we would have would play four solid quarters and be really physical and really tough and definitive and just make our mark and leave an impression on not just the opposing team but the coaching staff as well as our fan base,” he said. “That’s what we want to do.”

Was it a moral victory?

Both Shedeur and Deion Sanders were asked about this. Do you believe in moral victories?

“I don’t know what that means,” Shedeur Sanders said.

This is still a program that finished 1-11 last year and then overhauled its roster under Deion Sanders by forcing out many players from last year's team while bringing in 68 scholarship newcomers out of a roster limit of 85.

Sanders said he doesn’t believe in such a thing either but expressed pride in his team and said, “That was fun.”

Even more celebrities and famous former athletes came out again this time. Rapper DaBaby was here. So were NBA legends Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and a record 892 credentialed members of the media.

Shedeur Sanders also greeted the game’s biggest star after the game – Caleb Williams.

“Deion and that team brought a lot of energy to Colorado, and it was great,” Williams said. “We love going on the road. There’s just something about going on the road. It gets you up early in the morning and you can’t sleep at night. It’s fun. It’s enjoyable. They did a great job, and it’s fun, like I said, but we came out with the win which is the most important thing.”

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