Caleb Williams reaches new heights in USC win over Arizona > Dogecointool

Caleb Williams reaches new heights in USC win over Arizona

They trekked to the desert in search of renewal, ready to finally move forward and put the pain of their first heartbreak in the rearview.

USC had spent the last two weeks working through its devastating defeat to Utah in early October, refocusing and retooling and rebuilding confidence where it could, readying for a fresh start to a final stretch run. But when the Trojans arrived in Tucson, there was nothing fresh about them. USC was as rundown by injuries as it had been all season, missing its top two receivers, one of its top offensive linemen, its leading tackler and two of its regular rotational defenders.

USC still managed to slip out of the desert with a 45-37 victory over Arizona. But little about Saturday’s back-and-forth affair left anyone’s faith feeling renewed and rejuvenated about the Trojans’ trajectory. Other than the fact that USC no longer has to leave Los Angeles the rest of its regular season.

Once again, USC’s escape would require the umpteenth heroic showing from quarterback Caleb Williams, who set a career high in passing yards (411) and threw for five touchdowns for the second game in a row, despite being without his top two targets, Jordan Addison and Mario Williams.

USC wide receiver Tahj Washington (16) celebrates with running back Austin Jones (6) after scoring a touchdown.

USC wide receiver Tahj Washington (16) celebrates with running back Austin Jones (6) after scoring a touchdown against Arizona in the second half Saturday.

(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

USC also had to escape another troubling defensive effort in which the Wildcats racked up 543 yards, a week after USC allowed 562 to Utah. It was the first time the Trojans have allowed 500-plus yards in consecutive weeks since 2013.

The Trojans even weathered more costly officiating, as an end-of-half debacle cost them a chance to add at least a field goal before the intermission.

USC ultimately wouldn’t need it, not with its offense moving the ball at will. With its receiving corps dominated by reserves and its offensive line shuffled, the Trojans still tallied 621 yards, their most since November 2019.

“So many guys stepping up, you kind of lose count,” coach Lincoln Riley said.

Among them was Kyle Ford, a touted prospect out of Orange Lutheran High who’d waited several seasons for a night like Saturday. Ford finished with 114 yards and a touchdown — and nearly had another — capping a career night.

“We have such a good room that you have to come with your best every day,” Ford said.

USC’s receivers certainly gave their best Saturday, even if the Trojans’ prolific passing attack wasn’t enough to skate to victory.

Arizona refused to fold. Even after two Trojans touchdown drives in the fourth quarter appeared to put the Wildcats away, quarterback Jayden de Laura continued to fight back, scrambling his way into big plays. He threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns, the last of which cut USC’s lead to just eight points with 1:26 remaining.

“We still gave up too many big plays,” Riley said. “Listen, the quarterback here is a unique challenge. We had him dead to rights I don’t know how many times during the game.”

But try as De Laura might, USC’s big plays were too much to match. The Trojans had eight plays of 20 yards or more, half of which went for at least 45 yards.

USC opened the game with consecutive 10-play drives, grinding its way methodically down the field without its usual full complement of pass-catchers. Instead, Caleb Williams worked the perimeter with the likes of Ford, Terrell Bynum, CJ Williams, Michael Jackson and Kyron Hudson.

Still, Caleb Williams had little issue finding his rhythm with a fleet of reserves. By the end of the first quarter, USC’s quarterback had already completed 12 of 15 passes for 159 yards and involved seven different receivers. He hit freshman Raleek Brown for a six-yard touchdown on a swing pass in the first quarter and laced a bullet pass to Brenden Rice in the back of the end zone at the start of the second.

Arizona stayed close behind, even pulling ahead early after its first scoring drive. But the Wildcats watched two near-scores slip out of their grasp — one a drop, the other an out-of-bounds catch — forcing them to settle for field goals. Another drive ended in USC territory with a turnover on downs.

USC running back Travis Dye leaps over linemen to score a touchdown during the second half Saturday.

USC running back Travis Dye leaps over linemen to score a touchdown during the second half Saturday.

(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

USC was unable to take advantage. Though, many would argue it was robbed of a chance to do just that by the referees.

With time running down in the half, Caleb Williams found Rice for a 34-yard gain. Rice was brought down at the 10-yard line, with the clock stopped at six seconds. But before the ball could be spotted officially, seconds were already ticking away. By the time Caleb Williams hurriedly snapped the ball, the clock had already hit zero.

A furious Riley railed into several referees, as Arizona’s sideline emptied. The refs offered no answers, sending both teams instead to their respective locker rooms.

“The explanation given to me at the beginning of the third quarter was they obviously didn’t handle it properly,” Riley said. “But anybody knows that watching it.”

USC would instead ride that fury to victory in the second half, escaping with a win that never quite felt comfortable throughout.

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