Three takeaways from USC’s 38-27 victory against Notre Dame
After USC’s win against UCLA this season, junior defensive end Tuli Tuipulotu declared this season the Trojans’ “revenge tour.”
“We need our get backs from a lot of the teams that disrespected us last year,” he said.
Tuipulotu can check Notre Dame off that revenge tour list. Facing Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday, USC has the chance to get revenge, win a conference title for the first time since 2017 and potentially qualify for the College Football Playoff for the first time.
It’s a unique team and fans know it. Saturday night against the Irish, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was packed, the best atmosphere of the season and in recent memory.
The hype left behind from the Trojans’ victory over the Bruins carried over Thanksgiving week.
The crowd oohed and aahed with every sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams juke and run. Chants of “Heisman, Heisman, Heisman,” broke out multiple times during the night. The 72,613 fans in attendance were the most of the season.
“I don’t know how long it’s been since it was like that, I haven’t been here before, but man it was electric in there,” said Head Coach Lincoln Riley in a post game press conference Saturday. “To see the Coli like that, see our team playing the way we did… We played really well [on] all three sides of the ball.”
Now with a quick turnaround, USC will hope much of its play against Notre Dame will carry over to the Utes. Here are three takeaways from the Trojans’ explosive win over the Irish.
Caleb Williams’ Heisman Hype
Like Jay-Z once rapped: “What more can I say?” There were the Heisman poses, the crowning on the sidelines and the elusive pocket awareness.
If you didn’t buy into Williams’ Heisman stock before Saturday’s game, the price is taking off. Williams electrified the Coliseum with four total touchdowns — three on the ground, one in the air for a performance that will etch him in the Heisman conversation for weeks to come.
Williams was simply magnificent, throwing for 232 yards on an 81.8% completion percentage. He had the highest quarterback rating of his college career too with 97.6. Williams now has at least eight games with four total touchdowns, a testament to his consistency.
It was the right place, the right time for a Heisman moment too. A nationally televised game on ABC saw Williams play his best game of the year.
His wizardry in the pocket was on full display as he bobbed and weaved to extend plays and escape sacks. The quarterback credited his dad with instilling that mindset.
“My dad from when I was younger and when I first started playing quarterback to now with coach, we have a rule of take what’s in front of you and if it’s not there, scan the field,” Williams said. “And he also reminds me that I’m a little bit athletic. So sometimes [I] take off.”
Take off he did, as Williams broke multiple records throughout the night.
His 44 total touchdowns this season are the most ever by a USC quarterback in a single year. His 351 rushing yards are the most in a season by any USC quarterback ever. The Trojans have been playing football for over 100 years.
Oh, and Williams also punted the ball twice, including the longest one of the season for USC — a 58-yarder.
“Hopefully, we don’t have to punt anymore,” Riley said.
“I had the longest punt of the season though,” said Williams immediately after.
“It was a good punt, it was a good punt,” said Riley with a chuckle.
What could Williams not do Saturday night?
The Trojans are clicking at the right time and might have their eighth (counting Reggie Bush) Heisman winner.
Defense stops the run and reaches the turnover mark
Prior to the season, new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch set a preseason goal of forcing 24 turnovers in the season. USC forced 19 last season with a defense that gave up over 40 points four times.
Well, Grinch’s goal was reached after an interception and a fumble recovery put the Trojans’ forced turnovers at 26 — the highest total since the 2005 and 2004 seasons, the latter of which was USC’s last National Championship.
Does this mean the Trojans win the title this year? Probably not, but pair that with their suddenly strong run defense and it’s a great combination.
USC’s defense heard it all going into Saturday’s matchup.
The college football chairman said the Trojans’ defense is what is holding them back in the CFP rankings. San Jose Mercury News columnist Jon Wilner tweeted last Friday that the Irish “is going to rush for 850 yards.”
Notre Dame didn’t, reaching only 90 yards rushing, only Ohio State and Navy allowed fewer rushing yards to the Irish. It was another boost to USC’s defense after it kept UCLA’s run game in check the week before.
Grinch pointed out that the “film is the film” regarding the Trojans’ problems on defense. He believes there is still work to be done, particularly against Utah Friday, which Grinch said the defense has to do “everything” better to win.
But, he was proud of the players for not “sinking in” with all the noise about Notre Dame’s run game.
“This thing goes a completely different way if we’re not able to stop the run, so proud of the front seven,” he said.
Austin Jones impresses
It’s been a whirlwind of a season for senior running back Austin Jones. After a strong start to the year, Jones became buried in the depth chart, never eclipsing five carries in a game for five straight games.
But after the injury to redshirt senior Travis Dye, Jones has come alive, notching a career high in rushing with 154 on the ground against Notre Dame.
Riley repeatedly mentions that no one on the team is surprised by Jones’ production, the ultimate compliment to a player who said he just tried to stay ready.
“I love this game. I love this team. And no matter what I told them at the beginning of the season, I’m going to give whatever I got no matter what I got to do,” Jones said. “I just want to go out and have fun.”
His emergence in the run game maintains an important layer to this offense, many of which thought would take a hit without Dye. Riley though said Jones’ running was a huge difference-maker in the win.
“Austin has stepped up and boy he ran physical [Saturday]. I mean you talk about establishing the run game, that to me was the game,” he said.