BERKELEY, Calif. – In a stunning comeback victory, Caleb Williams led USC to a 50-49 win. However, the USC defense exhibited yet another lackluster performance, highlighting the need for immediate change. The team’s inconsistency on both offense and defense is a clear issue that must be addressed if they hope to win against the upcoming opponents.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Hopes for a Pac-12 Championship are still alive
Despite being down 43-29 with 14:06 remaining in the game, the Trojans did not give up. They were considered the favorites coming into the game with a 10-point lead in the first quarter, courtesy of a field goal by Dennis Lynch and a two-yard rushing touchdown by MarShawn Lloyd. However, the game became more challenging for USC as they faced off against Cal RB Jaydn Ott, who delivered an incredible performance.
In the first quarter, Ott scored a 43-yard run, resulting in a point for Cal. Ott rushed for two touchdowns and gained 130 yards in his first six carries. Caleb Williams and Tahj Washington had great coordination and made some big plays throughout the game.
However, during the first half of the game, USC seemed unfocused on both offense and defense. With 4 minutes and 17 seconds remaining in the second quarter, USC had already allowed 300+ yards, and their defense had given up huge plays to Cal QB Fernando Mendoza.
Riley stated that the team still believe they can win the best conference in the country as they got three of the toughest opponents coming up to finish the year.
Mendoza had an impressive performance, scoring two touchdowns and throwing for another one. Jaydn Ott also contributed significantly, rushing for 153 yards and matching his career-high with three touchdowns. However, USC’s defense managed to make some critical stops to prevent further scoring by their opponents and put their offense in a position to make a comeback. The defense’s biggest stop came in the form of an incompletion, forcing Cal’s two-point attempt to take the lead to fail with only 58 seconds remaining.
Williams threw for 369 yards and two touchdowns for USC, bouncing back after losses to ranked Utah and Notre Dame.
“I had a few mistakes in the Notre Dame game, dumb passes that I threw. Last week I had a 70 percent completion or something like that,” Williams said. “So I had one off day in the past three years.”
Washington finished the game with five receptions and 102-yards, Brenden Rice had 2 catches for 33-yards, one touchdown and Zachariah Branch with only one catch for 26-yards.
Riley needs to continue feeding Lloyd the ball
MarShawn Lloyd, the USC running back, played a crucial role in the team’s offensive comeback. In the fourth quarter, Lloyd made some big plays, which led to the Trojans exploding for 21 points. He finished the game with 115 rushing yards, two touchdowns, and three receptions for 72 yards. He was undoubtedly the most important player in the Trojans’ rally.
It’s worth noting that Lloyd has scored a touchdown in five consecutive games. His dynamic presence on the field was acknowledged by Williams, who shared his thoughts after the game.
“He’s a team guy, he doesn’t get up or down about his touches or whatever the case may be, when is time to go, his number shines.”
At the start of the season, it was anticipated that Lloyd and Austin Jones would compete for the top running back position. Lloyd’s impact in the game is dynamic, as mentioned by Williams, when he transferred to USC after entering the portal during this offseason. However, in the last few games, he has had fewer touches, and Lloyd stated after the game that he would be prepared to play whenever his name is called. Lloyd has also struggled with ball security in the last few games.
“My number one goal as a running back is to protect the ball, even today, protect the ball.”
Jones finished the night with nine carries for 37-yards in the win over Cal compares to Lloyd’s 17 carries and 3 receptions.
A confusing defensive performance by USC
In the first half, the defensive performance was not impressive as the team allowed 28 points. The players were unable to make tackles which led to multiple explosive plays by Ott and Mendoza. In the second quarter, Mendoza ran for a first down on 4th down and moments later, he scored a rushing touchdown after scrambling again. There were multiple 4th down attempts for Cal as they converted on a few.
During the first half of the game, USC’s defense allowed four consecutive touchdown drives. Mason Cobb missed several tackles in the open field while playing against Mendoza, which led to the Golden Bears exploiting USC’s defense.
Despite Mendoza’s efforts of passing for 292 yards and two touchdowns, he ended up throwing one interception which was huge for USC as they tried to come from behind and win this game.
USC’s defense faced a formidable Cal offense, which had been averaging 29.9 points and 407.3 yards per game leading up to the matchup. However, the Trojans struggled to contain the Bears’ offensive prowess, resulting in 49 points scored and 527 total yards gained by Cal. Despite USC’s efforts, Cal’s offense proved too much to handle.
Calen Bullock, USC’s safety, talked after the game about the message that defensive coordinator had for the team during halftime.
“We gotta believe in our job, go out there and trust each other, that’s all he told us. Believe in it.” said Bullock.
The team’s strategy of constantly rotating players in and out of the defensive lineup has not been effective. In the latest game, Cobb and Tackett Curtis, who usually start at linebacker, were replaced by Eric Gentry and Shane Lee. Gentry proved to be a valuable asset to the team, delivering an impressive performance with six successful tackles, a forced fumble, and an interception of a pass from Mendoza. His contributions played a significant role in the team’s victory.
“I Just got more opportunities,” Gentry said. “That’s really it. Just make plays when I get in.”
The Trojans improved their defense significantly in the second half compared to their performance in the first half. During the 4th quarter, Cal had the opportunity to tie the game by attempting an extra point after scoring on a 79-yard touchdown drive. However, they failed to convert on the two-point attempt. Jaylin Smith played a crucial role by breaking up the pass and preventing the conversion.
It was the biggest play by USC’s defense, which gave up over 500+ yards but forced four turnovers.
“That was a wild one,” Trojans coach Lincoln Riley said. “I’m really, really proud of the group. They could have folded there in the fourth quarter. The last two weeks, things haven’t went our way. To step up here on the road and go find a way to get this sucker done was huge. There’s a lot to build on and there’s a lot that needs to improve.”
USC Returns home to begin a three-game stretch against ranked teams, starting with No. 5 Washington on Nov. 4. After that, the Trojans play No. 8 Oregon and No. 23 UCLA.