Sanders ‘proud’ of Buffs’ comeback effort vs. USC

BOULDER, Colo. — Colorado Buffaloes coach Deion Sanders opened his news conference Saturday with some dark humor.

“A wonderful win,” he said, before smiling. “I’m just joking.”

Colorado didn’t win against No. 8 USC, falling 48-41 before a sellout crowd at Folsom Field that included celebrities from the sports and entertainment world. Led by quarterback Shedeur Sanders, the Buffaloes outscored the Trojans 27-14 in the second half and 14-0 in the fourth quarter, while outgaining coach Lincoln Riley’s offense 564-498.

Neither Deion nor Shedeur Sanders believes in moral victories — “I don’t know what that means,” Shedeur said — but Colorado’s strong second half against reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams and the Trojans continued to reset expectations and optimism for a program that went 1-11 in 2022.

“Overall, I’m really proud,” Deion Sanders said. “Not only of the young men, [but] the coaches, the fan base, the student body. I’m truly proud of the way we represented Boulder today.”

After a 42-6 loss last week at Oregon, in which they were nearly shut out, the Buffaloes appeared headed for another reality check against a Pac-12 heavyweight. USC raced out to a 34-7 lead behind four touchdown passes from Williams, who finished with six and 403 yards. Colorado trailed 41-14 midway through the third quarter following the second touchdown reception by Brenden Rice, who started his career with the Buffaloes.

But Shedeur Sanders rallied his team with help from Omarion Miller, who set a Colorado freshman record with 196 receiving yards on nine receptions.

“We just had to lock in and understand, ‘Look, this is not going to be a recap of what happened last week. We just not going out like that,'” Shedeur Sanders said. “Whatever it takes. That was the whole motto this week.”

Shedeur Sanders corrected several reporters and provided the correct pronunciation of Miller’s name, adding, “Everybody, this is my man, Omarion! He went for a lot of yards today!” Sanders found Miller for a 9-yard touchdown through a tiny window on fourth-and-5 to bring Colorado within two touchdowns early in the fourth quarter.

Miller, an ESPN four-star recruit, had not recorded a reception in Colorado’s first four games but said he “dreamed about” a big performance against USC.

“I’ve got so much to prove, this is just one game,” Miller said. “Y’all ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Miller was one of several young players to emerge for Colorado, which played without three defensive backs who started the season — safety Myles Slusher, cornerback Travis Hunter and safety Shilo Sanders, who missed his first game with a kidney injury from the Oregon game. Freshman cornerback Cormani McClain, ESPN’s No. 14 overall recruit whose preparation Deion Sanders called out during the week, had a pass breakup in the end zone and helped cover up a botched PAT attempt by USC.

Deion Sanders said he wants McClain “to be that dude,” and added that both McClain and Miller “separated themselves from their yesterday,” which was “terrible.” He said both have now reset expectations for themselves going forward.

Shedeur Sanders, meanwhile, continued to raise the outlook after his fourth game of 348 pass yards or more and third with four touchdown passes. Deion Sanders, who nicknamed his son “Grown” because of his maturity, said he had no doubt Shedeur would have led Colorado for another touchdown if the Buffaloes had recovered an onside kick with 1 minute, 43 seconds left.

Deion Sanders called Shedeur “a baller” and “a now player.”

“He’s been built and reared for this his whole life,” Deion Sanders said. “The kid has always won, he’s always been dominant, he’s always been smart and intelligent and concise, he’s always been a competitor. … He’s always given us a chance to succeed in every level.

“I could go on and on, but I don’t want to sound like the dad. The kid can flat-out play.”

Asked about sharing a stage with Williams, Shedeur Sanders replied, “My stage is my stage.” His goal is for more complete games, as Colorado has been outscored 90-28 in the first halves of its past three games.

Deion Sanders said the team’s strong finish is important, but the team is still searching for its “true identity” after a 3-2 September in which Colorado became the biggest story in college football.

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