Los Angeles, CA—The USC Trojans are peaking at the right time and they are doing all the small things to put the W in the left hand column.
Caleb Willams sealed his Heisman credentials with 232 yards passing and four total touchdowns, and No. 5 USC (11-1, No. 6 CFP) capped off its outstanding regular season under new coach Lincoln Riley by staying in trenches of the College Football Playoff race with a 38-27 victory over No. 13 Notre Dame (8-4, No. 15 CFP) on Saturday night inside a packed Coliseum.
Williams’ teammates had been demanding him to strike Heisman Trophy pose for them, and USC’s spectacular quarterback is nothing if not a team player.
“They kept saying it, so I just ended up doing it in the moment,” Williams said with a smile and a shrug.
Williams and the Trojans had plenty to celebrate after a skid-snapping rivalry victory over the Fighting Irish kept them in play for even bigger honors — and made Williams the probable frontrunner to collect the real trophy next month.
USC received the opening kickoff and moved the ball with ease for the first points of the game. The Trojans utilized seven plays to gain 75 yards, scoring on Williams touchdown pass to Tahj Washington. The point after was good and the Trojans took a 7-0 lead just 4:24 into the game.
The Irish went three and out on its opening possession, punting the ball back to the Trojans who fair caught the ball at midfield. Williams hit Jordan Addison over the middle for a gain of 23-yards, and connected Austin Jones for 16 more to drive to the Irish 5-yard line. A huge stop from Ademilola, followed by an offensive pass interference and a Foskey sack drove USC back to a third and goal from the 26. A run of 12 yards by Jones set up a 31-yard field goal for the Trojans to take a 10-0 advantage.
“I don’t know how long it’s been since it was like that,” Riley said. “I haven’t been here before this season, but man, it was electric in there. That’s what I remember watching as a young kid. These guys have brought it to life.”
Quarterback Drew Pyne threw for a career-best 318 yards, finishing 23-for-26 for three scores. The sophomore found seven different receivers in the contest, led by tight end Michael Mayer. Mayer finished with a game-high eight catches for 98 yards and two scores but ND defense couldn’t slow down USC’s high-powered offense in the second half.
The Irish got on the board midway through the second quarter. Pyne found Colzie for a 30-yard gain on third and 10 to move into USC territory. Tyree broke loose up the middle for a gain of 18 to set up the score. Pyne went to the air, finding Mayer for a 22-yard score to cut the Trojan lead to 10-7 with 6:14 remaining in the half.
USC responded on its next possession, driving 75 yards in 10 plays, capped off by a Williams five-yard scoring sprint. The Trojans took a 17-7 lead into the break.
The Irish took the second half kick and was moving the ball down the fall but the drive stopped with a fumble. The Trojans took over on its own 26-yard line following the miscue. Jones ran for 24 yards moved the ball into Irish territory. Williams hit Washington on the right side for a gain of 18-yards to move the Irish five. On third and goal, Williams gave the ball to Raleek Brown who ran off right tackle for the score to extend USC lead to 24-7 with 8:21 left in the third quarter.
JD Bertrand and Xavier Watts led the Irish defense, finishing with nine tackles each. Isaiah Foskey and Jayson Ademilola added five tackles apiece, with Foskey finishing with 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Ademilola finished with two tackles for loss and added a half sack.
The Irish answered back on its next possession. Estime ran for 29 yards on two carries to move into USC territory. Pyne took over from there, connected with Styles for a 16-yard gain and scrambling for another seven yards. On second and three, Pyne found Colzie on a back shoulder fade to score from 23-yards out. That TD was Colzie’s first of the season.
Williams led the charge on the ensuing drive for USC. He combined for 41 yards through the air and on the ground, finishing the drive with a three-yard scoring run to extend the lead to 31-14 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Pyne and the Irish continued to counter punch. The sophomore quarterback threw for 54 yards to move into the red zone on the next possession. He handed to Tyree who ran for six yards, followed by a give to Diggs who followed right tackle Blake Fisher into the end zone for a five yard scoring run to cut the Trojan lead to 31-21 with 11:29 remaining.
After an ND turnover, the Trojans added an insurance score when Williams closed a 24-yard scoring drive with a 16-yard touchdown run on fourth and short to extend the lead to 38-21 with 2:35 left in the contest.
Pyne found Mayer for a 24-yard score with just over a minute remaining to cut the Trojan lead to 38-27 after a failed two-point conversion, but USC recovered the Irish onside kick attempt and ran the clock out to hand Notre Dame its fourth loss of the season.
“I’ve never seen nothing like it,” Washington said. “The things he does on a consistent basis … he deserves it. He got the crown, you know what I mean?”
USC became the first team to gain 400 yards and to score more than 32 points this season against the Irish while completing its first 11-win regular season since 2008.
“I think we have a lot to play for still,” Pyne said. “I’m proud of how we fought today. I’m proud of how we’ve fought the whole season.”
Notre Dame: A mid-tier bowl game.
USC: A quick trip to Las Vegas on Friday to play Utah for the Trojans’ second conference title in 14 seasons.