USC beats Notre Dame in Heisman-worthy performance

Caleb Williams and Jordan Addison celebrate during the Trojans' win over Notre Dame.
Sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams rushed for 3 touchdowns in the Trojans’ win against Notre Dame, the most in a game by a USC quarterback in the last 25 years. (Simon Park | Daily Trojan)

Sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams put an end to the Heisman conversation with a strong performance against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to close out the regular season with a 38-27 win at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Williams went 18-22 passing with 1 touchdown and added 3 rushing touchdowns. Williams now has 44 total touchdowns for the season and is the heavy favorite to win college football’s biggest honor next month. Williams spread the ball around, with 10 different players receiving for over 20 yards. 

“We got a great team, and we know our identity. We are not shying away from it. We are attacking it. We know who we are,” said Williams about the team’s strive for success on the field. “I have been trying to lead more. There’s been times throughout games, practice where I’m not leading to my ability, I am for sure trying to pick that up.” 

The Trojans took the lead early against the Fighting Irish and never let it go in their first win over Notre Dame since 2016. Just 5 minutes into the game, Williams found redshirt junior wide receiver Tahj Washington for an 11-yard touchdown reception to go up 7-0. Redshirt freshman kicker Dennis Lynch scored a 31-yard field goal after some struggles last week against UCLA to put the Trojans up 10-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Notre Dame responded with a touchdown to their standout junior tight end Michael Mayer, closing in on USC’s lead. In a quick response, Williams methodically led the offense down the field before rushing for a 5-yard score to end the first half with a 17-7 lead. About halfway into the third quarter, freshman running back Raleek Brown scored on a 5-yard run, putting the Trojans up 24-7. Notre Dame answered with a 23-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Deion Colzie to cut the lead back down to 24-14. 

A pair of touchdown runs from Williams and an interception from sophomore defensive back Calen Bullock clinched the victory for the Trojans, who ended their regular season with an 11-1 record.

“We have a rule about tak[ing] what is in front [of] you, and if it’s not there, then scan the field,” said Williams about his play style and going on these runs on his own. “It also reminds me that I am a little bit athletic, so sometimes take off.”

Other than Williams, there were many other key players and units that helped the Trojans get the win at the Coliseum, including senior running back Austin Jones, who now has an elevated role due to a season-ending injury to redshirt senior running back Travis Dye. The senior transfer from Stanford had 25 carries for 154 yards and now plays a prominent role in the Trojans’ dynamic offense. 

“Same thing as I said last week [against UCLA], no surprises,” said Head Coach Lincoln Riley about Jones’ performance. “Travis [Dye] and Austin [Jones] were 1A and 1B, and we are very fortunate to have some really good backs in there.”

Moreover, the defense had a relatively strong performance, despite allowing 27 points. Defensive linemen redshirt senior Solomon Byrd and junior Tuli Tuipulotu had key sacks on Notre Dame quarterback junior Drew Pyne, who completed 88 percent of his passes for 318 yards. When Notre Dame was threatening to score in their opening drive of the third quarter, senior Ralen Goforth recovered a fumble deep in USC territory. Finally, Bullock got a crucial interception toward the end of the game when the Fighting Irish were only down 10. These defensive efforts, along with limiting Notre Dame to only 90 yards rushing, shifted the momentum back to USC to ultimately hand them the win. 

“Defensively, honestly, kind of got sick and tired of hearing how well we were just going to get pounded in the run game. That didn’t happen,” said Riley about how the defense stepped up against the run game. “Really proud of the way we stopped the run, tackled, causing turnovers, and made big plays.”

Bullock said he was “very proud of the defense.” 

“We knew what type of game it was going to be,” said Bullock about the team’s efforts on the other side of the ball. “We knew they were going to try and come in here and thought they were going to out-physical us.” 

The Trojans are set to take on No. 124 Utah in the Pac-12 Championship at Las Vegas in a rematch of USC’s only loss this season. The teams will face off Friday at 5 p.m., with a potential College Football Playoff berth on the line for the now No. 4-ranked Trojans.

“I think we are as good as any team, and I am just not talking about today,” said Williams about his team’s potential and success this season as they prepare for the upcoming high-profile matchup against Utah. “The outside world is going to say what they have to say, and we are 11-1 right now … Whatever happens, is what is going to happen, but we got a game this week that we got to focus on.”