USC football overpowers Fresno State, improves to 3-0

Quarterback Caleb Williams runs through traffic.
Quarterback Caleb Williams threw for 249 total yards and rushed two touchdowns in USC’s emphatic 45-17 victory over Fresno State. (Vincent Leo | Daily Trojan)

USC football showcased their offensive capabilities under the lights at the Coliseum, taking down the Fresno State Bulldogs 45-17. The Trojans improved to 3-0 on the year in a game that featured over 500 total offensive yards by USC, including 100-yard rushing performances from Trojan running backs redshirt senior Travis Dye and senior Austin Jones  — each of whom also recorded a touchdown. 

“ Travis [and I] have great chemistry… we feed off each other. You can see it within the game,” Jones said in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “You know, being a running back, there is always a ‘what if’ but at the end of the day, we ran well all night — both me and Travis.”

USC’s defense continued to demonstrate progress as a unit, holding a Fresno State team that had averaged over 33 points and 463 yards per game to only 17 points. However, the Trojans conceded 421 yards, highlighted by an explosive Bulldog running attack backed by poised quarterbacking.

“We just held a really good offense… a lot of talented guys, to seventeen points,” Head Coach Lincoln Riley said. “Can [the defense] get better? Absolutely. Do we expect it to get better? Yes. Each week there’s a few less mistakes, a few more things right.”

Sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams continued flashing Heisman-quality play, finishing 25-37 with 284 yards passing, 2  passing touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 149.9. The sophomore added 41 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground.

Williams was on the run more than usual, with 12 rushing attempts compared to 9 and 6 from his previous two games. The Fresno State pass rush was present throughout the game, forcing errant passes and more running around than Williams might have intended. 

“I try not to use my legs,” said Williams after the game. “But that is an ability that I have. I just had opportunities that opened up… and I just took what they were giving me.”

Junior wide receiver Jordan Addison picked up his fifth touchdown of the season and sophomore wide receiver Mario Williams led the team in receiving yards with 77. 

On the opening drive, USC drove down the field for 71 yards, featuring a 20-yard run from  Dye, and capped it off with a 2-yard bootleg pass from Williams to Addison to give the Trojans an early 7-0 lead. 

On the following drive, an effective pump-fake by Williams opened up an 8-yard scramble up the middle for a touchdown, giving the quarterback his first rushing touchdown of the season and extending the Trojan lead to 14-0.

After the Trojan defense held Fresno State to a field goal despite the Bulldogs reaching the USC 5-yard line, Williams found the end zone with his feet once more on a quarterback sneak at the goal line to give the Trojans a comfortable 21-3 lead with 8:04 left in the second quarter. 

However, the Bulldogs took just under 90 seconds to strike back, with senior quarterback Jake Haener hitting senior wide receiver Erik Brooks for a 39-yard touchdown, trimming USC’s lead to 11 points.

The following drive saw USC push their way to the Bulldog 20-yard line before an offensive pass interference call and a 14-yard sack forced the Trojans to punt. Their last drive of the half resulted in Williams getting sacked twice more, leading to another punt. 

“Second quarter, there were small mistakes, very very small mistakes, and those small mistakes lead to stalling on drives, getting pushed back, having a sack where I should have just… threw the ball out of bounds and we could have had a field goal,” said Caleb Williams. 

In the third quarter, however, the momentum shifted back to the Trojans’ favor. In the opening drive of the second half, a sack by redshirt senior defensive lineman Solomon Byrd caused Haener to fumble, which USC recovered. Haener was carted off after the play and did not reenter the game, handing the reins to sophomore quarterback Logan Fife. 

Byrd, who transferred from the University of Wyoming, ended the game with two tackles for loss, along with the strip. 

“We gave [Byrd] a game ball, which was very much deserved. Two weeks ago, he was a [third string], you know, he wasn’t getting many reps. But that’s what we are trying to build… a guy that takes five reps as a three and gets an opportunity and keeps working and then now… is a starter and came in and really impacted the last two weeks,” Coach Riley said. 

USC focused on the running game in the third quarter, rushing the ball 11 times compared to only 5  pass attempts. 

“We had over 200 yards rushing and [over] 200 yards passing as well, so you can see that balance,” said Jones. “We didn’t want to come out flat like we did against Stanford, we wanted to continue to put it on them.”

The Trojans opened up their lead to 42-17 after a 10-yard touchdown pass to redshirt senior tight end Malcolm Epps, who recorded both his first touchdown of the season and his first career interception, after picking off Haener to end the first half on a Hail Mary attempt. 

“It gotta be the pick,” said Epps when asked after the game which play was more special to him. “I feel like a lot of tight ends don’t have a pick under their stat sheet.”

“Put him out there at safety, let him go track the ball,” Addison remarked, adding afterwards that he didn’t think Epps could cover him. 

The Trojans picked up a 41-yard field goal by redshirt freshman place kicker Denis Lynch with 4:09 left in the fourth quarter to cap off the game 45-17. It was Lynch’s only field goal attempt of the day, but with a busy offense, the kicker was a perfect six-for-six on extra point attempts.