USC’s offense shines in spring game

Junior receiver Brenden Rice shields the ball from defenders.
Junior receiver Brenden Rice, a transfer from Colorado, shields the ball from defenders while carrying the ball in USC’s spring game Saturday. (Vincent Leo | Daily Trojan)

There was a buzz in the air walking past the peristyle before Saturday’s spring game. Fans piled in for the festivities full of a surplus sale of merchandise, food trucks and photo ops. Cardinal and Gold jerseys with names old and new flooded the walkways.

USC’s social media released the spring game details through a graphic with the same style as a Coachella lineup drop. It was no Indio music festival, but it was a Lincoln Riley football team. 

The Trojans’ offense defeated the defense 34-30 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Saturday. The attendance of 33,427 fans was the most for a USC spring football game since records were made available in the late 1990s.

“I thought the day was very representative of how the entire spring has gone,” Head Coach Lincoln Riley said in a postgame press conference. “Pretty physical on both sides of the football. Some big plays on both sides.”

It was a different format than usual for a spring game. Since USC did not have enough bodies for separate Cardinal and Gold teams, the Trojans instead fielded an offense and defense team and played only one half of a football game. 

The defense started with a 21-point lead; turnovers were 3 points; fourth down stops were 3 points;, a missed field goal was 3 points; a defensive touchdown was 7 points and safety was 7 points. The offense started with no points and the same scoring system as usual. 

Behind a strong balance of running and passing plays, USC’s offense moved well down the field on its first possession. 

Oregon transfer running back Travis Dye had 26 yards on 5 carries early. The drive ended with a connection Trojan fans can possibly get used to — sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams to sophomore receiver Mario Williams for a five-yard touchdown. 

Caleb spoke on his strong performance in the first quarter but noted his play in the pocket had subsided as the game went on. 

“In the beginning, it was solid, but then not so solid,” said Williams about his performance. “We got to get better moving the ball [in] the second half. That’s always big. It’s always a new game when you come out that second half … We’ll get better.”

Caleb’s debut in the Coliseum started out as strong as expected. He began the game 9-for-9 for 90 yards for two touchdowns. Riley noted that Caleb and the team continue to show improvement on all fronts.

“[Caleb is] getting better; he’s getting more comfortable; he’s becoming a more seasoned, experienced quarterback,” Riley said. “A lot of attention is on him, but we’re gonna need that at all positions.” 

Dye and Stanford transfer running back Austin Jones spearheaded a strong running back group that rushed for 94 yards. Jones was the only back with a touchdown, but redshirt junior Darwin Barlow contributed solid runs too. 

“[The running backs] played pretty good for how long it was,” Dye said. “We have a few things to clean up still, but that’s what practice is for.” 

USC’s ensuing drive saw redshirt freshman quarterback Miller Moss under center. Moss led the Trojans with 169 passing yards. The offense opened Moss’ first drive with a reverse run play to redshirt freshman receiver Kyron Ware-Hudson, a play common in Riley’s offense and rare in previous Trojan seasons. Ware-Hudson led USC with four receptions for 36 yards. 

Moss, who has received praise from Riley about his improvement, brought the unit down the field but was eventually stopped by the defense. Redshirt senior kicker Alex Stadthaus then drilled a 55-yard field goal. 

The ensuing offensive possession ended in a similar way to the first one: Williams found Williams again. Caleb threw a dime to Mario for a 9-yard touchdown to put USC’s offense within four points at the end of the first quarter. The touchdown to Mario would be Caleb’s last one of the game, however. 

Later, Moss’ deep ball to redshirt junior receiver Kyle Ford put another touchdown on the board for USC’s offense. 

But Williams couldn’t capitalize, and the defense scored three points for a fourth-down stop. 

Moss’ unit managed to secure another field goal, but Williams couldn’t lead the unit down the field again. The defense earned another three points to cut the offense’s lead down to four. 

The game ended with another 3 points for the Trojans’ defense — fitting for a side that played stronger in the second half than the first. The offense split the half with 17 points each.  

With the close result, Riley emphasized the players’ excitement going into the spring game. 

“If you’re in this city and don’t feel the momentum about this program, you’re not paying attention,” he said. “Our guys feel it right now. They were amped to play this game.”

USC will take the field for its season opener Sept. 3 against Rice University.