LOS ANGELES — After Caleb Williams’ last magic act, 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 Washington quarterback. Trojans.
“Heisman! Heisman! Heisman!” chanted a pocket of fans.
Williams extended his lead in the race for college football’s most coveted individual award on Saturday night by leading No. 6 USC to a 38-27 victory over rival No. 15 Notre Dame. The Heisman favorite did everything but lead the marching band or sing the national anthem as the Trojans improved to 11-1 and strengthened their record to make the college football playoffs for the first time.
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.
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. The Trojans lined up like they were going to go fourth-and-eight in the second quarter, but Williams instead fired a 58-yard punt, USC’s longest punt of the season so far. now. Williams threw again in a similar situation midway through the fourth quarter and pinned Notre Dame at his own 10-yard line.
Riley also 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 Notre Dame’s defense sniffed it out and Williams was given an offensive pass interference penalty while trying to break up an interception potential in the end zone.
Williams’ flurry of Heisman-worthy moments kept USC in a strong position to advance to the college football playoffs. 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.
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.
Notre Dame’s last hope of handing USC its second loss died with the Irish 10 and five minutes from the end of the fourth quarter. Calen Bullock came forward past a pass from Drew Pyne and had his fifth interception, sending a nearly sold-out Coliseum crowd into a frenzy.
From there, Williams added another Heisman moment. On fourth-and-second, he faked a handoff and kept the ball himself for a 16-yard touchdown run. Receivers Tahj Washington and Jordan Addison punctuated the moment by approaching Williams and miming as they placed a wreath on his head.
Indeed, there is little doubt who the best individual player in college football is. After another jaw-dropping night, it seems time to crown Caleb Williams.