USC’s Caleb Williams has Heisman moment in dominating victory over Notre Dame

LOS ANGELES — After Caleb Williams’ latest magic, a dazzling display of coaster improvisation that turned a certain sack into a great passing game, the amazed USC crowd showed their appreciation for the Trojans quarterback .

“Heisman! Heisman! Heisman!” chanted a pocket of fans.

Williams certainly looked Heisman-worthy on Saturday night as he piloted USC to an impressive 38-27 victory over rival Notre Dame. The dual-threat quarterback did everything but lead the band and sing the national anthem as the Trojans improved to 11-1 and strengthened their record to advance to the college football playoffs.

It started with Williams’ rare blend of arm skill, pocket awareness and the ability to extend plays with his feet. He completed 18 of 22 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown, with many of his longest completions coming on plays where Notre Dame’s pass rushers seemed to have him within reach, only to have him move, weave and slip away.

“You can never give up a play when the ball is in his hands,” USC wide receiver Jordan Addison said. “He will extend a game and shake things up. All we have to do is open up, and he’ll put it right there.

Williams also nicked Notre Dame’s outclass defense as he rushed for three touchdowns. With USC leading 10-7 late in the second quarter, Williams had the option of giving running back Austin Jones or keeping the ball himself. The Irish defense swarmed Jones, so Williams pulled the ball out and ran into the middle untouched for a 6-yard touchdown.

Then, in USC’s opener in the second half, Williams extended his team’s lead to 24-7 by doing the exact opposite. Notre Dame’s defense had to respect their keeper so much that a trade to tailback Raleek Brown was discovered.

As if those feats weren’t enough, USC coach Lincoln Riley allowed Williams to show off some lesser-known talent. Twice the Trojans lined up like they were going to make it on fourth down, only for Williams to kick ass. One of Williams’ punts was 58 yards — the longest of USC’s season, he proudly noted during his press conference. The other pinned Notre Dame on his own 10-yard line.

When asked if his quarterback would kick more after that performance, Riley joked, “Hopefully we don’t have to punt anymore.”

Riley got a little too cute trying to fabricate a touchdown catch for his quarterback. USC’s freshman coach called for a reverse double pass from receiver Mario Williams, but the Notre Dame defense sniffed it out and Caleb had no choice but to take a pass interference penalty offense trying to break up a potential interception in the end zone. .

“We’re going to have to go back to the movie theater on that one,” Addison joked.

While a touchdown reception would have been the icing on the cake of Williams’ brilliant night, Oklahoma’s transfer still did a lot to increase their lead over Heisman and establish themselves as a worthy winner. How many other quarterbacks have thrown for 33 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions this season? How many other quarterbacks have taken a program that went 4-8 last season and restored it to national prominence? How many other quarterbacks have opposing coaches going out of their way to shower them with compliments?

Last week, UCLA coach Chip Kelly called Williams “as good a quarterback as I’ve faced in my college career.” On Saturday, Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman described Williams as “like a running back,” but “he’s got the arm of a great quarterback.”

USC quarterback Caleb Williams threw for 232 yards and a touchdown while running for three against Notre Dame on November 26, 2022 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Williams’ heroics on Saturday night left USC potentially one win away from its first college football playoff appearance since its inception in 2014. The Trojans would finish the season with a conference championship and back-to-back marquee wins if they can follow up wins over UCLA and Notre Dame with a victory in the Pac-12 title game against Oregon or Utah on Friday night.

If Georgia, Michigan, and TCU remain undefeated in winning their respective conference title games, USC’s playoff fate could come down to whether the CFP’s nominating committee prefers their resumes over the team’s. ‘Ohio State to one loss or two-game SEC powerhouse. The committee ranked USC sixth behind the Buckeyes and LSU by two losses in last week’s standings, but that was before those two teams lost on Saturday.

Ohio State is no longer undefeated after Michigan arrives in Columbus and retired late for a 45-23 win. LSU fell completely out of playoff contention when sub-.500 Texas A&M pulled off a 38-23 upset. That can only bolster USC’s case that its only flaw this season came with a single point, a 43-42 mid-October loss at Utah.

A pair of second-half turnovers destroyed Notre Dame’s hopes of handing USC their second loss. First, quarterback Drew Pyne fumbled on the Irishman’s opening possession in the second half, halting a promising drive and leaving his side still down 10. Then, with the Irish still down 10 10 and five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Calen Bullock stepped in. past a pass from Pyne and had his fifth interception of the season, sending a nearly sold-out Coliseum crowd into a full-throated frenzy.

From there, Williams added another Heisman moment. On the 4th and 2nd, he faked a handoff and kept the ball himself for a 16-yard touchdown run.

Williams’ teammates understood the importance of his four touchdown performance on the national stage. Not only did some of his receivers push him into the Heisman pose after one of his touchdowns, but they punctuated his final touchdown run by approaching Williams one by one and pantomiming as he placed a crown on her head.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, the things he does consistently,” wide receiver Tahj Washington said. “He has the crown, can you feel me? In my book, he’s the best I’ve ever seen.

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