Williams and USC send a message

LOS ANGELES (News4usonline) – What a difference a year makes. And what a difference a head coach makes. A year ago, the USC Trojans and their football program were sinking in quicksand as indicated by their 4-8 overall record. A change was bound to happen. 

And it did. The Trojans got rid of Clay Helton and went out and nabbed Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma to be their next head coach. That would be just the start. Riley, in turn, started to do his whiz thing when it came to recruiting. The biggest fix Riley had to make was at the quarterback position. 

USC running back Austin Jones (6) dashes through the defense of Notre Dame for some of the 154 yards he gained against the Fighting Irish in the Trojans’38-27 win at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

So what did Riley do? He got his star quarterback at Oklahoma to follow him out to Southern California. It’s been a wild ride for Riley and the Trojans since Caleb Williams made the decision to join Riley on the Cardinal and Gold bandwagon. Thanks to these momentous changes, the Trojans have restored order in the college football world as one of the premier teams in the country. 

The Trojans are 11-1 on the season. They’re headed to play in the Pac-12 Championship. With a major shakeup at the end of the college football regular season, USC is now ranked No. 4 in the latest College Football Playoff poll. That’s not too bad of a turnaround for a football program that didn’t know which way it was headed at the end of last season.  

To his credit, Riley does not attribute the turnaround to some magic wand or anything like that but rather to rolling up his sleeves and doing what was necessary to get everything going in the right direction. 

“You just go to work, and you start putting it together as fast as you can and start building the culture as fast as you can,” Riley said. “I can’t say ‘Yes, I knew this was gonna happen,’ but at the same time, I don’t believe in putting limits on what you can accomplish. Especially if you get the right people in the building and everybody decides to be unselfish and work hard for each other.” 

“That’s what this group has done,” Riley added. “They’re a great example of when you do that, the worst thing you could ever do is put limits on what you can accomplish. You guys know me, I stood right by what I told you our expectations were from day one. A lot of people thought I was crazy, and that’s fine. People within the walls knew what we were about and I think had a sense of what we were building, and it’s been a fun run.”

USC wide receiver Jordan Addison (3) looks for yards after the catch against the Notre Dame defense on Nov. 25, 2022. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Notre Dame got a whiff of the Trojans’ excellence after Williams and USC dropped the most points any team has scored on the Fighting Irish this season. Williams and the Trojans started fast and ended their nationally televised game against the Fighting Irish with a flurry in a 38-27 win at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 

Williams had an efficient night of work through the air going 18 of 22 for 232 yards and a touchdown. He also lit up Notre Dame with his ability to make plays with his legs. 

For the game, Williams rushed for 54 yards. His uncanny scrambling had Notre Dame defenders running in circles as he blitzed the Fighting Irish with three rushing scores. 

“I’ve seen him do it a lot,” Riley said. “I’m proud of the decisions that he’s making, other than one tonight. The one where he got sacked for a 30-yard loss. We’ll get to that tomorrow, I guess. No, it is impressive. The escapability, the ability to get out of tackles, and that combination of quickness with it. I think there’s just a trust there because a high percentage of time he makes the right play on it and has made a lot of big plays in that scenario for us.”

Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman signals for a one-point extra conversion attempt after his team scored a touchdown against USC at the Los Angeles Memorial Stadium. The Trojans defeated the Fighting Irish, 38-27. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Through a variety of errors and miscues, Notre Dame was not able to get untracked offensively until it was garbage time. The Fighting Irish trailed USC 24-14 at the end of three quarters. A 3-yard touchdown run by Williams at the start of the fourth quarter put the icing on the cake for the Trojans as they snapped Notre Dame’s five-game winning streak.  

“I’m sure everybody’s disappointed, from me on down,” Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman remarked. “You really want to see how you compare against a team on Saturday when you’re playing at your best. We didn’t play at our best. We had a couple of self-inflicted wounds. We turned the ball over twice, the turnover on downs in the first half, then defensively we didn’t stop the run. For them to rush for 200 yards, that is not a formula for success.”

Led by Austin Jones (154 yards), USC rushed for 204 yards as a team. USC’s versatility on offense is what the Trojans a very dangerous team for whoever faces them in the postseason.    

“I think we’re as good as any team, from spring ball to summer workouts and things like that, I thought we were gonna be a great team,” Williams said. “The outside world is going to say what they want to say, and we are 11-1 right now, so obviously it doesn’t matter. We thought we were a great team, and we’ve shown that. Whatever happens is going to happen, but we have a game this week and we have to focus on that.”