In a nail-biting showdown against Arizona on Saturday night, USC’s football team faced a barrage of challenges that threatened to hand them their first defeat of the season. The reasons for concern were aplenty: a sluggish start, an offense led by Caleb Williams that seemed more effective on the ground than through the air, an inconsistent defense, questionable time management, and even a missed field goal attempt that could have sealed the victory in regulation.
However, amidst the chaos, there was a moment of magic. In the third overtime, Caleb Williams displayed his incredible athleticism, slipping past a Wildcats defender with a mesmerizing stutter step that paved the way for a touchdown, giving USC the lead. Arizona couldn’t counter, and the Trojans narrowly escaped with a 43-41 victory, preserving their undefeated record.
After the game, Caleb Williams, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, felt compelled to acknowledge the Trojans’ defense, a unit often criticized. “We wouldn’t have won that game without the defense,” Williams asserted. “We were down 17-0. This whole defense thing, our brothers, the score wouldn’t be 43-41 without them. Put it simply that way.”
Coach Lincoln Riley echoed Williams’ sentiments, highlighting a pivotal interception by Jacobe Covington in the first half and the game-sealing tackle for loss on Arizona’s two-point conversion attempt.
“When you go down 17-0, you get tested internally,” Riley observed. “Your culture gets tested quick. Defense is what got us going.”
Williams, Riley, and the entire team are well aware of the persistent narrative that questions USC’s defense and its ability to compete at the highest level. While Saturday’s game exposed several vulnerabilities, it also showcased the Trojans’ resilience.
“A lot of teams don’t win this game going down 0-17,” Riley admitted.
In previous matchups, USC’s high-powered offense led by Williams often masked the defense’s inconsistencies. However, this time was different. Arizona effectively stifled Williams, making it challenging for him to find open receivers. They negated his passing and scrambling prowess, forcing him into a running role.
“Lanes kept opening up, they kept dropping out, and they left me with big lanes,” Williams explained, reflecting on his 41 rushing yards. “I know I haven’t run much this year. I don’t really like to run, to be honest with you, but you got to do whatever you got to do to win the game.”
Williams also emphasized that opposing teams view games against USC as marquee matchups, ensuring the Trojans receive their opponents’ best efforts. USC can’t afford slow starts in such circumstances.
Riley acknowledged the need for improvement while maintaining optimism. “My expectations are higher than anybody’s,” Riley asserted. “I want to score every time we have the ball. In reality, that’s not going to happen. And you can either panic or you can get back on it. We didn’t play our best tonight by any stretch, but one game to another, I wouldn’t count us out.”
USC’s thrilling victory, though far from flawless, underscores the team’s determination to keep their undefeated streak alive, even in the face of adversity.