SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Caleb Williams threw a career-high three interceptions and Notre Dame converted five USC turnovers into 28 points as USC was blown out 48-20 by Notre Dame in their first true test of the season against a Top 25 team. After a 6-0 start against unranked opponents, USC will face four Top 25 teams over the next month in a difficult stretch that will define their season.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
The offense struggles in the first half again
It is unclear why Austin Jones had multiple possessions when MarShawn Lloyd was not in the game. During a fourth down opportunity, there was a miscommunication between Williams and Jones which resulted in the team being shut down. Over the past two games, the team has encountered difficulties in initiating their offense during the first half of games, which has led to USC falling behind 17-0 against Arizona last week and 24-3 against Notre Dame on Saturday.
Williams threw three interceptions in first half and was forced into those bad decisions because USC’s offensive line simply couldn’t block Notre Dame. The offensive line that couldn’t protect the quarterback, also couldn’t open holes in the run game, either. It’s going to be tough to do much on offense when you can’t protest the quarterback in the passing game and open up lanes in the running game.
Before Saturday’s game against Notre Dame, Williams had not experienced any pressure as intense as he did in South Bend. He entered the game as the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy again but walked out likely out of the race.
Trojans unable to clean up mistakes in the second half
In the second half, USC’s defense managed to get two consecutive stops, and both times Zachariah Branch returned the ball. Branch had been absent from the last two games, but he returned to the field when the USC offense needed a boost. Williams executed the option play with a toss to Lloyd, who rushed for a 31-yard touchdown, USC’s first of the third quarter.
However, Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman responded with a long touchdown pass to Chris Tyree for 46 yards. The Trojans have struggled with big plays like that all season long as they allowed Hartman to sling the ball.
In the fourth quarter of the game, Branch had a huge run, but Notre Dame’s Jadarian Price was allowed to return a kickoff for 99 yards due to multiple missed tackles, which has been a recurring issue for the team throughout the season. At one point, it seemed like the game was going to become interesting, until Williams was sacked for the sixth time. The Trojans’ offensive line had been performing poorly throughout the game, providing zero protection for Williams and leaving him vulnerable to hits he has not faced all season.
Brenden Rice managed to score his eighth touchdown of the season, despite only making two catches for a total of 18 yards Surprisingly, Michael Jackson III led the team in receiving with six catches for 51 yards, considering the presence of other great receivers like Branch, Washington, Singer, and Williams who could have contributed equally well.
Williams had his worst game as a Trojan during the biggest stage of the year so far. He threw three interceptions and only one touchdown pass, while being limited to 199 yards on 23-for-37 passing.
“I made mistakes that I usually don’t make.” Williams said after the game.
Williams blamed his lack of execution and not preparation. He and USC will now have to prepare to face the likes of Utah, Washington and Oregon in the coming weeks.
Lincoln Riley Calls Pac-12 best conference in College Football
USC head coach Lincoln Riley said he was disappointed in his teams overall performance against Notre Dame. “There wasn’t one position group offensively that was good enough tonight,” he said.
Speaking after the game, Riley expressed his belief in the team’s potential, naming them the best team in the conference. Despite the loss, he seemed optimistic about their future, and emphasized the need for the team to continue to work hard and improve their performance in future games.
“I’ve been part of teams for a little while and as a head coach, I’ve been part of teams where several of them have lost throughout the year because it’s pretty damn tough to go undefeated in college football.”
USC entered the season as a top contender for the Pac-12 title and a spot in the College Football Playoff. However, the team is currently struggling to find its identity, which poses a major problem for Riley. The Trojans’ defense gave up 48 points against Notre Dame, marking the third consecutive game in which they have allowed 40 or more points. While much of the criticism will be directed towards the defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, it’s important to note that the offense’s four turnovers, which led to 28 points for the opposing team, also played a significant role in the team’s loss. After USC’s loss to Notre Dame on Saturday. it’s clear that the team’s issues are much larger than Grinch and the defense.