Los Angeles, CA —USC head coach Lincoln Riley is bringing respectability back to the Trojans’ program with their recent play on the football field.
Caleb Williams went 15 of 29 for 188 yards and threw two touchdown passes to Mario Williams as No. 6 USC Trojans (6-0, 4-0 Pac-12) shut out Washington State in the second half in a 30-14 victory Saturday night at the LA Memorial Coliseum.
Travis Dye ran for 149 yards and a touchdown for the Trojans, who stayed unbeaten in this young season. USC hadn’t started this well 6-0 since 2006, near the height of coach Pete Carroll’s era. Washington State fell to 4-2 and 1-2.
Williams caught a 38-yard TD pass on the Trojans’ opening drive, but the Cougars put together back-to-back long touchdown drives to start the second quarter. Washington State offense on that second TD drive after Ward threw a slant to Ferrel and safety Calen Bullock was ejected for his hit on the play.
“The battle, the grind, the willingness to do the hard stuff, and the way we responded, all of it is very encouraging,” USC defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said.
The Trojans reclaimed the lead shortly before the break, USC and Washington State both were called for game-altering penalties during the drive, which ended in Dye’s 4-yard TD plunge for a 17-14 advantage.
Star linebacker Shane Lee sat out with an injury, and safety Calen bullock was ejected on a targeting call decided by video review in the second quarter.
“When you lose two of our best players, two of your leaders, you’ve got to have everybody step up,” Riley said. “We had a lot of guys step up. The defensive front had a dominant game.”
Cameron Ward threw for 172 yards while connecting with Robert Ferrel and Nakia Watson for touchdowns for Washington State, who remained winless at the Coliseum since 2013. The Cougars fell short of its second road victory over a Top 25 team this season when its offense couldn’t move the ball in the second half.
USC shut down the Cougars that had scored 107 points in its previous three games. Washington State didn’t score in the final 43 minutes, and Tuli Tuipulotu got three of the Trojans’ five sacks.
“The Washington State defense allowed us to maintain some momentum, but it wasn’t enough to punch it in and finish,” coach Jake Dickert said. “Defensively, we never quit. It could have turned ugly, but they kept us in it.”
Just before the break, the Trojans reclaimed the lead for with a penalty-filled drive ending in Dye’s 4-yard TD run.
Dye had another TD run called back by a penalty in the third quarter before Mario Williams slid into the end zone to grab a pass inches off the grass for his second TD.
Denis Lynch kicked two of his three field goals in the final 9:09 as USC’s offense used up most of the clock.
“You have to win in different ways. You have to find ways to move the ball,” Riley said. “We adapted, and he was a big part of that.
Washington State: The offense couldn’t move the ball in the second half, and while that’s mostly a credit to USC’s defense, fans won’t like the mix of drops and the questionable play calls. The Cougars clearly have talent on offense, and they have to produce a better product on the field.
USC: The Trojans have reached the midway point of Riley’s debut regular season with very few reasons for complaints, beyond injuries. The defense is flying all over the place and playing gap sound football which is encouraging as the Trojans head for a battle with the defending Pac-12 champion Utes.
Washington State: At Oregon State on Saturday night.
USC: At Utah on Saturday night.