LOS ANGELES – The Trojans entered this game with the opportunity to turn their season around with a win over Washington but that was not the case tonight. Caleb Williams and Michael Penix Jr. battled on the field in a shootout with Washington coming out on top as Dillon Johnson destroyed the defense.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Caleb Williams is not enough to get a win
After defeating Cal last weekend, Williams began his first drive with a touchdown by Raleek Brown, putting the Trojans on the scoreboard early. Going into the game, Washington had a strong reputation on both offense and defense. The highly-anticipated match-up between both Heisman favorites lived up to expectations in the first half, as they battled it out at the Coliseum. Williams went 12/14 for 120 yards and one touchdown, while Huskies QB Michael Penix Jr. went 14/19 for 173 yards and two touchdowns.
MarShawn Lloyd’s absence from the USC team had an impact on their run game. However, Williams, did an exceptional job by rushing for 29 yards in the first half. At one point, Williams showcased his exceptional skills on the field. He made some incredible plays with both his legs and arm, reminiscent of the remarkable abilities of Patrick Mahomes. Austin Jones stepped in for 11 carries and 127 rushing yards.
After the USC suffered the defeat, Williams, was unable to hold back his emotions and broke down in tears. Williams was seen making his way towards the stands where his mother was seated, and upon reaching her, he leaned forward and hugged her tightly. His mother comforted him as he cried, whispering words of encouragement in his ear. The emotional scene lasted for a few minutes before Williams finally composed himself and returned to the locker room with his teammates.
The players walked into the media room, and while most sat upfront as instructed by a USC representative, Williams sat on the floor behind Calen Bullock, who was hiding from the cameras. Williams eventually stood up and positioned himself off to the side. When asked about his feelings after losing a difficult game, he gave an intriguing response.
“I want to go home and cuddle with my dog, and watch some shows.” said Williams.
The defense is not able to make any remarkable adjustments
USC’s defense has a reputation for giving up numerous explosive plays, and this trend continued in their latest game. The Trojans allowed 35 points in the first half, with Huskies RB Dillon Johnson dominating them with 118 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Washington’s offense was highly efficient, converting four out of six third downs and one fourth down conversion in the first half.
Domani Jackson, the cornerback for USC, has been struggling on defense throughout the season, making multiple mistakes. In the fourth quarter, he was called for a crucial penalty that severely impacted USC’s chance of winning. His performance has been a significant liability for the team.
A significant concern is the defensive strategies implemented by Alex Grinch; they have not been adequate for the team throughout the current season and even dating back to the last season. Although players have previously mentioned that Grinch’s schemes put them in favorable positions to make plays, they have failed to deliver most of the time.
The performance of USC’s defense has been a major talking point throughout the season. Many have suggested that having someone else call the plays would be beneficial. The defensive coordinator, Grinch, has a strategy of bending but not breaking, by creating turnovers and banking on the offense to score.
USC has been struggling with their defense this season. In their recent game against Washington, the Trojans allowed Dillon Johnson, the Washington running back, to have the best game of his career. This is not an isolated incident, as just two weeks ago, USC allowed Utah to have their best rushing performance of the season in a last-second loss. This kind of defensive performance is not sustainable in the long term, particularly as the Trojans are due to join the Big Ten next season.
Riley specifically selected Grinch to lead the defense when they moved from Oklahoma to Los Angeles. However, based on the available data, it’s clear that this partnership is not successful. For the well-being of both parties, it is imperative that they end it as soon as possible.
The Trojans couldn’t stop the Huskies’ explosive offense, which gained 572 yards, including 316 rushing yards by Washington. Nothing has gone right for this defense when it matters the most. Big time scramble plays have been allowed all season long.
USC safety Calen Bullock talked during his media availability after the game said the run defense was the problem.
“All the big runs I would say when somebody is not in their gap or somebody’s not lined up. That’s what happens, you see big runs. Preach everyone doing their job and big runs, just too many explosives.”
Mason Cobb was not happy after the game as he talked about finding their confidence for future games.
“Put our head down and keep doing the same stuff. We keep preaching in practice, it’s just gotta be the same work.”
It’s hard to ignore the fact that the Trojans defense has only managed to achieve two sacks in their last four games. This is a concerning stat that requires immediate attention. If the team wants to have a chance at success, they need to improve their defensive strategy.
What’s next for the Trojans?
During the postgame press conference, Lincoln Riley said he would not be talking about the big picture. As he was constantly asked about the defense, he did not want to spend time talking about it.
“We didn’t play very well tonight. Biggest thing was the run game. Way too many big plays, and then some of our worst ball was on some of the biggest plays of the game.” said Coach Riley.
Riley has a remarkable quarterback who is considered to be one of the best that the college football world has ever seen. Along with Williams, Riley’s team boasts a number of talented wide receivers and a star running back named MarShawn Lloyd, who is leading the conference in rushing yards.
“He has an injury from the Cal game and we found out about mid-week that he wasn’t going to be available.”
However, despite having such offensive firepower on his roster, Riley has consistently failed to achieve the expected levels of success. It’s worth noting that Riley had never lost three games in a regular season until this point. There was lots of frustration in Riley’s voice when speaking to the media after the game.
“Just in the moment, you know. Everybody wants to write the whole story of the whole thing and all that’s happened. Every week is its own season for us.”
Riley was asked about how he’s been handling the defense this season and he did not want to spend any time talking about Alex Grinch.
“I’m not into the big picture questions right now. My job is to go try to beat Oregon next week and to coach what we have here. I know as a head coach that all falls under my responsibility ultimately, and I don’t shy away from that and I never have, but there are times and places for those discussions and those will happen at the appropriate times.”
USC suffered its third loss of the season, effectively ending their hopes of making it to the College Football Playoff. In Week 8, USC was defeated by Utah, dealing a critical blow to their chances of winning the Pac-12 title. The defense has struggled in recent games, with opponents scoring more than 40 points in five out of the last six matches. The Huskies’ victory over USC marked a particularly tough day for the team, with 52 points scored against them.
As the regular football season draws to a close, Coach Riley is determined to keep his players motivated and focused for their upcoming game against Oregon. Despite facing a tough opponent, he knows that his team has the talent and dedication to come out on top. With the end of the season in sight, every game counts, and Riley is making sure that his players understand the importance of giving it their all on the field. From intensive training sessions to strategy meetings, he is doing everything in his power to prepare his team for the challenge ahead.
“We get to play two great opponents that, like us, are at the top of the standings here. We still have a great opportunity. If we can go win these two games, we have great opportunity, and that’s what our focus is going to be.”
As they head to Oregon next weekend for their game, Riley will continue to rally his players and provide the guidance and support they need to succeed.