USC quarterback Caleb Williams and the Trojans overpower Arizona State

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. - OCT. 1, 2022. USC quarterback Caleb Williams throws downfield.
USC quarterback Caleb Williams throws against Arizona State in the first quarter Saturday at the Coliseum.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

USC quarterback Caleb Williams and running back Travis Dye dominated the second half, helping the Trojans roll to a 42-25 win over Arizona State.

USC led Arizona State by four points at halftime, but quarterback Caleb Williams and running back Travis Dye took over in the second half en route to a 42-25 win.

Caleb Williams shines as concerns over USC’s defense linger in win over Arizona State

USC quarterback Caleb Williams scrambles for a first down against Arizona State.
USC quarterback Caleb Williams scrambles for a first down against Arizona State in the third quarter of a 42-25 win Saturday at the Coliseum.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The questions came bearing down on USC’s star quarterback like blitzing defenders, lingering all week in the wake of his worst performance yet as a Trojan: What exactly happened to Caleb Williams in Corvallis? And how might he respond when faced with adversity for the first time?

The answers would speak volumes to where USC might wind up in the coming months. But his coaches and teammates had side-stepped any such insinuations, shaking their heads at the very notion that Williams might falter. Still, by Saturday night, those lingering concerns from the Trojans’ narrow win at Oregon State remained unanswered by Williams, until the sophomore quarterback took it upon himself to shrug them off.

Williams once again was asked to mount escape after escape on Saturday in a 42-25 win over Arizona State. This time, however, he put the entire team on his back to do so, dragging along an inconsistent Trojans defense, an iffy offensive line and a quiet ground game.

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Calen Bullock interception puts final flourish on win

USC couldn’t leave this game without a takeaway, right?

The ball-hawking defense continued its streak of takeaways with an interception from Calen Bullock with 33 seconds remaining to seal USC’s 42-25 win over Arizona State.

USC turned a tight four-point halftime lead into a comfortable victory against Arizona State by holding the Sun Devils (1-4, 0-2 Pac-12 Conference) to minue-13 rushing yards in the second half.

No. 6 USC is 5-0 for the second time in two years, after also rolling through five straight wins to start the 2020 pandemic-shortened season.

Quarterback Caleb Williams rebounded from a shaky performance against Oregon State last week with 348 yards and three touchdowns and one interception on 27-of-37 passing. He added 44 rushing yards and another touchdown on the ground.

Travis Dye led the Trojans on the ground with 62 rushing yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns. Jordan Addison had 105 receiving yards on eight catches.

USC had five sacks on ASU’s Emory Jones in the second half.


USC rushing game taking over in the fourth

USC took advantage of the short field after the onside kick and extended its lead with a one-yard touchdown run from Travis Dye.

The Trojans lead 42-25 with 3:46 to go and have outscored the Sun Devils 21-8 in the second half. After rolling up 218 yards in the first half, ASU has just 54 yards in the second half, including minus-seven on the ground.

Dye has come alive on the ground in the second half, now leading the Trojans with 62 rushing yards on 13 carries. He has two touchdowns and five on the year.

Jordan Addison has 105 receiving yards and eight catches, including a 13-yard catch on the scoring drive.


USC avoids disaster during onside kick

Pac-12 after dark, activate!

Arizona State went for a surprise onside kick after scoring a touchdown and appeared to recover, but a review negated the play because of an illegal block on ASU.

The entire USC sideline exhaled and Jordan Addison easily recovered the second attempt. The Trojans took over at the ASU 39-yard line.


Arizona State adds touchdown, two-point conversion

Arizona State isn’t going away easily.

The Sun Devils cut the deficit to 10 points with a two-yard touchdown run from X Valladay and a two-point conversion from Emory Jones to Valladay.

USC leads 35-25 with 6:16 remaining in the fourth quarter.


Kyron Hudson’s first touchdown extends USC lead

Redshirt freshman Kyron Hudson caught the first touchdown pass of his career to put USC up 35-17 with 10:54 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Trojans have scored 14 unanswered points in the second half as quarterback Caleb Williams has completed five of his last six passes since throwing his first interception of the season. He capped the eight-play, 60-yard drive with a two-yard pass to Hudson, who has a career-high three catches for 46 yards tonight.

Williams is 25-for-35 for 331 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He also leads the team with 44 rushing yards on eight carries.

USC got help on the drive from a defensive pass interference against ASU’s Ro Torrence, who broke up a pass intended for Jordan Addison. The 15-yard penalty gave USC a first down at the ASU 20-yard line.


USC continues third-quarter dominance

Despite turning the ball over for the first time this season, USC still extended its lead on Arizona State during the third quarter to take a 28-17 lead into the fourth.

USC overcame a Caleb Williams interception to score on a two-yard Travis Dye touchdown run while the defense kept ASU scoreless. USC is outscoring opponents in the third quarter of games 55-7 this season.

To start the fourth quarter on a high note, Tyrone Taleni sacked ASU’s Emory Jones for a 10-yard loss on third-and-six, forcing another punt.


Travis Dye goes high

Travis Dye dove over the pile to score a two-yard touchdown and put USC up 28-17 with 1:10 remaining in the third quarter.

The nine-play, 50-yard drive was a calm answer to Caleb Williams’ interception on the previous drive. The quarterback converted third-and-14 with a pass to Brenden Rice after Williams was dragged down for an eight-yard sack on second down. After the third-down play, USC ran the ball five consecutive times into the end zone.

USC has 103 rushing yards to Arizona State’s 94, led by 44 yards on eight carries from Williams.


USC defense forces three-and-out after turnover

Crisis averted.

The defense bailed Caleb Williams out after his interception, holding Arizona State to a three-and-out. Mekhi Blackmon had a critical third-down pass breakup on a long pass to Bryan Thompson, forcing an ASU punt.


Caleb Williams’ first interception of the year stops USC drive

The first takeaway of the night goes to the Arizona State defense.

Caleb Williams committed the first USC interception turnover of the year when he tried to lost a pass to Jordan Addison in the end zone, but was instead picked off by Arizona State’s Timarcus Davis. The Sun Devils will start on the 20-yard line after the touchback down 21-17 with eight minutes left in the third quarter.

The Trojans entered the game with a plus-14 turnover margin, having not turned the ball over on offense compared to 14 takeaways on defense. USC’s ball-hawking defense hasn’t delivered a takeaway yet tonight.

The Trojans have only one sack and forced no turnovers.


USC forces first ASU punt

The USC defense held Arizona State without points for the first time tonight, forcing a punt on ASU’s first drive of the second half. Shane Lee and Eric Gentry sacked Emory Jones on second-and-eight, backing the Sun Devils up for a long third down. While they converted a third-and-11 on the drive, Jones’ third-and-16 swing pass to X Valladay went for no gain, forcing a punt.

USC leads 21-17.


Arizona State on offense first to start second half

Arizona State will start the second half on offense after deferring the coin toss.

The Sun Devils could be on the way to one of their best offensive performances of the season behind quarterback Emory Jones, who was nine-of-11 passing for 117 yards and one touchdown in the first half. ASU trails 21-17.

Losers of three straight games, Arizona State is 11th in the Pac-12 (and 102nd nationally) in total offense, averaging 348 yards per game in games against Northern Arizona, Oklahoma State, Eastern Michigan and Utah. The Sun Devils gained 218 yards in the first half. They average just 22.8 points per game, which ranks 107th in the country and 11th in the Pac-12.


USC misses opportunity on last first-half drive

What could have been.

USC almost landed an early haymaker to end the first half, but will instead settle for a 21-17 lead at halftime after a costly penalty wiped away a touchdown.

Three Arizona State defenders were running with Jordan Addison down the middle of the field, leaving Mario Williams wide open down the sideline for a 72-yard touchdown. But the crowd’s cheers quickly turned into shocked boos after a holding call on Courtland Ford that negated away the big play.

The Trojans have been called for six penalties for 38 yards, including two illegal block in the back flags on special teams.

Instead of scoring to finish the first half, USC had to punt to ASU. But with 32 seconds remaining, the Sun Devils just settled for a simple handoff and ran out the first-half clock.

USC is outgaining ASU 288-218, but the Sun Devils are gaining momentum on the ground with 101 rushing yards on 16 carries.

Caleb Williams is 15-for-23 for 217 yards and two touchdowns with a team-high 33 rushing yards on five carries. He also has a rushing touchdown. Mario Williams is USC’s leading receiver with four catches for 46 yards.


Emory Jones sparking ASU offense

Emory Jones is trying to match Caleb Williams play-for-play.

The Arizona State quarterback led a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, capped by his own six-yard touchdown run. The Sun Devils trail 21-17 with 2:27 remaining in the first half.

Jones, a transfer from Florida, scrambled to the right and blew right past USC defensive back Jaylin Smith, who made a half-hearted attempt at a tackle. Jones is nine-of-11 passing for 117 yards and a touchdown with 15 rushing yards on three carries and another touchdown on the ground.

Williams is 13-of-18 for 187 yards and two touchdowns with a rushing touchdown.


Malcolm Epps scores USC’s third touchdown

USC’s offense is still rolling with a third touchdown on as many drives.

Caleb Williams rolled out to his right and found tight end Malcolm Epps in the back of the end zone for a four-yard score that put USC up 21-10 with 6:05 remaining in the second quarter.

The play was a final flourish during a drive that started in the shadow of USC’s own goal post. The Trojans were dangerously close to giving up a safety after a block in the back penalty on the kickoff backed the Trojans up to their own six-yard line. Williams was flirting with the goal line on second-and-10 as the pocket started closing in on him, but he got out of trouble by flinging a jump pass to Jordan Addison for 13 yards, which jumpstarted the drive.

Freshman running back Raleek Brown is getting his most significant playing time since his explosive season opener. He has four carries for 22 yards. After the shifty former five-star recruit juked his way to a 12-yard gain that put USC on the Arizona State 19-yard line, the stadium public announcer said, “Hand off to Raleek Brown and he does the rest.”

Brown is also returning kickoffs for the first time this season. His first attempt at a return went for 22 yards, but was called back on a penalty by Ralen Goforth.


USC bends but doesn’t break

Arizona State has had little trouble moving the ball against USC, but the Trojans locked down when it counted.

USC held ASU to a 40-yard field goal attempt after the Sun Devils pushed into the red zone. The Trojans lead 14-10 with 9:53 remaining in the second quarter.

The 12-play drive featured three third downs for ASU. Brandon Pili stuffed Case Hatch for no gain on third-and-one from the USC 43. The Sun Devils didn’t hesitate to keep their offense on the field and handed off to X Valladay, who rushed for four yards around the left side.

The Sun Devils came up with another short-yardage conversion in the red zone, but Emory Jones’ eight-yard keeper on third-and-two was called back for holding. The penalty proved costly for Arizona State, which settled for the field goal after Jones’ third-and-12 pass was incomplete to Andre Johnson in the end zone. Safety Calen Bullock was credited for the pass breakup.

Arizona State, which has lost three consecutive games, is almost equal to USC in total yardage, trailing 145-137 after two drives for each offense.


USC leads after first quarter

USC takes a 14-7 lead into the second quarter as Arizona State will face third-and-one from the USC 43-yard line after the break.

Caleb Williams is back to his old ways with 113 passing yards, one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown in the first quarter. He’s completed eight of 11 passes to five different receivers and also leads the team with 17 rushing yards.

Arizona State’s offense is countering with 9.6 yards per play to USC’s 7.6. X Valladay has 34 rushing yards on three carries and a 29-yard touchdown catch. Quarterback Emory Jones is five-for-six passing for 66 yards.


Hello, old friend

There’s a reason Mario Williams followed Caleb Williams from Oklahoma.

The former OU teammates hooked up for a seven-yard touchdown to put the Trojans ahead 14-7 with 1:52 remaining in the first quarter.

Mario announced his transfer to USC one day after Caleb made the move to follow Lincoln Riley out West. The Williamses have now connected on two passing touchdowns this year.

Caleb Williams is eight-of-11 passing for 113 yards and one touchdown. With some personnel changes on the offensive line, the quarterback has faced early pressure. He slipped out of two would-be sacks on the drive and also leads USC in rushing with 17 yards and one touchdown on three carries.

In addition to Gino Quinones getting his first start at right tackle, offensive lineman Courtland Ford returned to the field for the first time since Sept. 10 against Stanford. The redshirt sophomore came in at left tackle on the second drive, replacing Bobby Haskins and restarting USC’s left tackle shuffle.


X marks the spot for Arizona State

Arizona State answered USC’s touchdown with a score of its own as quarterback Emory Jones hit running back X Valladay for a 29-yard touchdown pass.

The Sun Devils tied it up at 7-7 with 13:27 remaining in the first quarter.

Valladay burned USC’s Shane Lee up the sideline on a wheel route and ran untouched into the end zone. In addition to the touchdown on third down, Valladay had a carry for nine yards during the drive.


Caleb Williams scores with QB sneak

No need to worry about Caleb Williams.

After a shaky performance last week, the quarterback is off to a quick start against Arizona State, completing all five of his pass attempts during the first drive and scoring on a one-yard quarterback sneak.

USC leads 7-0 with 10:28 remaining in the first quarter.

Williams went five-of-five for 66 yards on the first drive and also scrambled for six more yards on a three-and-six to keep the chains moving.

A few offensive line personnel notes: Bobby Haskins started at left tackle for the third consecutive game. Courtland Ford, who was splitting time at the position before injuring his foot, is dressed for the game on the sideline. Redshirt junior Gino Quinones started at right guard in place of team captain Justin Dedich. Dedich is also dressed in pads on the sideline.


Undefeated USC to start on offense against Arizona State

Hello, this is Thuc Nhi Nguyen, your driver for our second college football live blog of the weekend as No. 6 USC hosts Arizona State at the Coliseum.

The Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) are coming off a scrappy win at Oregon State, but looking for a bounceback performance from their quarterback Caleb Williams. The sophomore was just 16-of-36 passing for 180 yards in the worst game of his young USC career.

Williams will get on the field quickly as USC will receive the opening kickoff after Arizona State (1-3, 0-1) won the coin toss and deferred.


How Eric Gentry transformed into USC’s pass-swatting defensive field general

USC linebacker Eric Gentry celebrates during the Trojans' win over Oregon State on Sept. 24.
(Amanda Loman / Associated Press)

Before his uncommon length became his greatest strength, Eric Gentry struggled to feel comfortable in his own body.

Between eighth and ninth grades, the future USC inside linebacker sprouted more than four inches. He grew another three soon after that, soaring to 6 feet 6 by his junior year at Neuman-Goretti High in Philadelphia. The rest of his body would take much longer to follow suit. As a stringy sophomore, Gentry weighed around 160 pounds, the unexpected growth spurt leaving his towering frame spindly and awkward.

That frame would one day make him one of the most unique defenders in college football, as with Gentry emerging this season as the rangy, pass-swatting, ball-stopping field general at the center of USC’s defense. Through four games, Gentry not only leads the Trojans in tackles (32), but the influence his seven-foot-plus wingspan has made as a deterrent in the middle of the defense is immeasurable.

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Caleb Williams redemption game: Three things to watch for in USC vs. Arizona State

USC quarterback Caleb Williams runs the ball during a win over Fresno State on Sept. 17.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

One pass fell short. The next sailed high. Another arrived behind the receiver. With each successive throw, it seemed Caleb Williams might not snap out of the funk that suddenly sapped him of his accuracy last Saturday in Corvallis.

Then came that final scoring drive against Oregon State — and that final, pinpoint throw for a touchdown to Jordan Addison down the sideline, and, suddenly, the struggles that came during an ugly, 16-for-36, 180-yard performance would be absolved.

Lincoln Riley dismissed any concerns about USC’s quarterback — “Some nights you don’t have your best stuff,” the coach said — as did his teammates, many of whom applauded his composure throughout last Saturday’s eventual win.

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Inside the Neilon Nudge: Brett Neilon and the USC Trojans break down his clutch push

USC offensive lineman Brett Neilon walks onto the field at the Coliseum before a game against Rice on Sept. 3.
(Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It was a pivotal moment in the most pivotal game yet for USC under Lincoln Riley, the sort of triumphant turning point every title team inevitably needs, but at the time Saturday night, none of the Neilon family had any sense of the significance of a moment now known as the Neilon Nudge.

“One of my favorite plays I’ve ever had anywhere,” Riley said Tuesday.

Brett Neilon was just trying to get to the ball, like he’d been taught. All season, offensive coordinator Josh Henson had hammered into the Trojans’ offensive line to run to the ball and finish through the whistle. So once USC’s sixth-year center disengaged from his pass protection on that crucial, fourth-and-six play, he saw Caleb Williams streaking across his line of sight, tiptoeing between defenders with the ball in his hand. Then, suddenly, the Trojans quarterback could go no farther.

“I didn’t know honestly how close the first down was,” Neilon said. “And I just kind of looked at [Williams]. He kind of looked at me, and so I just ran full speed and hit him. I assumed it was close because there was no whistle. So I assumed the refs thought he might be pretty close, jockeying for position. So I just went, and I hit him pretty hard. Maybe the hardest hit of my life.”

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USC vs. Arizona State: Betting odds, lines, picks against spread

USC wide receiver Jordan Addison runs a route against Fresno State on Sept. 17.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The USC Trojans take their No. 6 AP ranking into their 7:30 p.m. Saturday meeting with the Arizona State Sun Devils at the Coliseum.

The Trojans are off to a 4-0 start under first-year coach Lincoln Riley and the only Pac-12 team at 2-0 in conference play. ASU isn’t expected to threaten that perfect record as USC opened as a 24-point home favorite and that hasn’t deterred early bettors from laying the huge spread as the line is up to USC -25.5. In fact, 72% of the bets and 91% of the money (which is usually an indication of action from sharper bettors) are on the Trojans. For the most up-to-date betting trends from DraftKings, see VSiN’s college football betting splits page.

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