No. 14 USC pummels Rice to kick off Lincoln Riley era with a bang

USC quarterback Caleb Williams carries the ball against Rice in the second quarter Saturday at the Coliseum.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

No. 14 USC rolled to a 66-14 win over Rice, scoring on nearly every offensive possession and adding another three scores off interceptions Saturday.

USC showcases a new era for its football program in dominant opening win over Rice

After nine months of high hopes and delirious dreams of grandeur, Lincoln Riley stood in the Coliseum tunnel, seconds away from the start of a new chapter for the new USC coach and the proud program he’d inherited. In that moment, hope sprung eternal. Everything still was in front of them.

A dismal decade of Trojans football was firmly in the rearview. A fleet of new transfer talent was in place. The foundation of a new culture had taken hold. All that remained were these last few feverish breaths of anticipation before the steamy cauldron of the Coliseum beckoned, when anyone — the coach included — still could wonder how exactly this grand experiment might come together in a genuine college football game.

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Lincoln Riley, Caleb Williams as good as advertised in season opener

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. - SEP. 3, 2022. USC rquarterback Caleb Williams throws downfield against Rice.
USC quarterback Caleb Williams throws against Rice in the second quarter Saturday at the Coliseum.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

As far as Hollywood premieres go, Lincoln Riley’s was fit for the silver screen.

USC crushed Rice 66-14 as Riley opened his Trojan tenure on Saturday at the Coliseum, where an announced crowd of 60,113 braved sweltering heat to catch a glimpse of the highly-touted coach. They weren’t disappointed as the Trojans, led by transfer quarterback Caleb Williams, had their highest-scoring game since a 69-0 win over Washington State in 2008.

Williams completed 19 of 22 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns in three quarters. He got an early rest as the defense helped pad the score with three interceptions returned for touchdowns, tying a school and Pac-12 record.

Jordan Addison, another transfer, had a team-high five catches for 54 yards with two touchdowns. Running back Austin Jones scored twice in his USC debut after transferring from Stanford.

Safety Calen Bullock and linebackers Shane Lee and Ralen Goforth each scored off interceptions.


USC continues to pour it on

Darwin Barlow scored a touchdown on his first carry of the season to put the Trojans ahead 66-14 with 6:11 remaining in the fourth quarter.

This is the most points for USC since crushing Washington State 69-0 in 2008. USC has scored on all but one offensive drive, settling for a punt on Miller Moss’ first drive in the fourth quarter. The defense also added three touchdowns from interceptions.


Miller Moss in at quarterback

Caleb Williams has earned some rest after this debut.

The quarterback completed 19 of 22 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns with 68 rushing yards on six carries and will head to the bench with the Trojans protecting a 59-14 lead in the fourth quarter. Williams completed passes to eight different receivers.

With the comfortable lead, backup Miller Moss took over leading the offense. The redshirt freshman played in two games last year, completing 8 of 13 passes for 74 yards and one touchdown.


RB Austin Jones extends USC’s lead

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. - SEP. 3, 2022. USC strong safety Calen Bullock returns an interception.
USC strong safety Calen Bullock returns an interception for a touchdown against Rice in the second quarter.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Another transfer, another touchdown.

Austin Jones, an addition from Stanford, scored his second touchdown of his USC career with a 28-yard run to put the Trojans up 59-14 at the end of the third quarter. All five of USC’s offensive touchdowns have come from first-year players: two from Jones, two from Jordan Addison and one from freshman running back Raleek Brown. Caleb Williams, the quarterback in charge of the offense, is also a transfer from Oklahoma.

Jones has 35 rushing yards on three carries.


Another USC interception sets up touchdown pass from Williams to Addison

The offense can’t let USC’s defense steal all the thunder.

After USC ended a third consecutive Rice drive with an interception, this time by Xamarion Gordon, Caleb Williams and the Trojans offense made their first appearance of the second half and scored on the short field with a three-yard touchdown pass from Williams to Jordan Addison. The Trojans lead 52-14 midway through the third quarter.

The safety’s pick off yet another tipped pass set the Trojans up at the Rice 34-yard line. Williams scrambled for 12 yards on the first play, was sacked for a three-yard loss on the second — Rice’s first tackle for a loss today — then found Addison for back-to-back completions to score.

USC’s three interceptions returned for touchdowns tie a school record, set Nov. 11, 1982 against Arizona.


USC scores on another pick-six

The USC defense has now scored as many touchdowns as its offense.

Ralen Goforth added a third pick-six just three plays after Shane Lee’s and now USC leads 45-14 with 12:52 remaining in the third quarter. The USC offense still hasn’t taken the field in the second half.

Unlike Lee and Calen Bullock, who scored off tipped passes, Goforth capitalized on pressure from the USC front that forced a bad throw from Rice quarterback TJ McMahon. It was Goforth’s first interception of his career.


Shane Lee opens second half with another pick-six

Caleb Williams didn’t even have to take the field to start the second half for the Trojans to score.

Linebacker Shane Lee added a second defensive touchdown to USC’s day with a 40-yard pick-six to put the Trojans ahead 38-14 with 13:39 remaining in the third quarter. The Alabama transfer also has a team-high seven tackles, two tackles for a loss and one pass breakup.

Rice is moving the ball well, averaging 6.1 yards per play, but the USC defense is living up to Alex Grinch’s focus on forcing takeaways. Lee’s interception is the second for the USC defense after safety Calen Bullock also scored on a tipped pass.


Caleb Williams leads USC to big halftime lead

The only thing hotter than the weather at the Coliseum is Caleb Williams.

The Oklahoma transfer has been as good as advertised in his USC debut, going 16 for 19 for 206 yards and one touchdown with 33 rushing yards on two carries. His stellar play has the Trojans ahead 31-14 at halftime as USC settled for a field goal to end the half despite driving into the red zone.

Williams came within inches of another touchdown pass to end the half, finding Mario Williams in the end zone with one second remaining, but the receiver’s toe was on the line.

The quarterback has completed his 16 passes to eight players, led by Tahj Washington’s four catches.

Freshman running back Raleek Brown’s USC debut is off to a good start with three rushes for 21 yards and one touchdown.


USC’s Romello Height ejected for targeting as Rice scores

College football is truly back: We have our first targeting ejection of the Pac-12 season.

USC rush end Romello Height has been ejected for targeting late in the second quarter and Rice used the personal foul, which occured on third-and-24 to give the Owls a first down, to extend a scoring drive that ended with a two-yard run from Ari Broussard. The Trojans lead 28-14 with 1:35 remaining in the second quarter.

Height’s ejection puts extra pressure on former five-star recruit Korey Foreman as Height will now miss the remainder of the game. Foreman has one tackle so far today.


Calen Bullock scores with 93-yard pick-six

The USC offense isn’t the only unit that can score.

Sophomore Calen Bullock returned a tipped pass for a 93-yard pick-six to put the Trojans ahead 28-7 with 8:05 remaining in the first half.

Bullock was a menace on the entire Rice drive. The safety came up with a touchdown-saving tackle on first down, chasing Cameron Montgomery down after a 55-yard gain straight up the middle. When Rice tried to run the exact same play the next snap, Bullock crushed Montgomery for another tackle after a seven-yard gain.

Bullock, a Pasadena native, is coming off a strong freshman season in which he was named a Football Writers Freshman All-American after starting at three different positions.


Freshman Raleek Brown scores first collegiate touchdown in style

After scoring on a 14-yard touchdown run, Raleek Brown extended an arm in a familiar posture: the Heisman pose.

The freshman running back put a confident exclamation point on the first touchdown of his college career that extended USC’s lead to 21-7 with 10:49 to go in the second quarter.

Brown has three carries for 21 yards with two-thirds of his yards coming on the scoring play as he raced around the left side and away from Rice outside linebacker Josh Pearcy.

The USC defense set up the drive with the first three-and-out of the game. The Trojans used a coaches challenge to avoid disaster on third down after USC was called for pass interference, which would have given Rice a first down. But a review revealed that the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage, eliminating any defensive pass interference calls.


USC offense firing on all cylinders

Two plays into the second quarter, USC scored its second touchdown of the game with a four-yard run from Austin Jones.

The Trojans now lead 14-7 with 14:13 to go in the first half.

Caleb Williams had his first incomplete pass of the game on the drive — a drop by Tahj Washington — but also showed his dual-threat ability with a five-yard scramble. He moved the pocket on third and eight to complete a 29-yard pass to Kyron Hudson. An assist goes to Travis Dye for a key backfield block on the play.

Williams is seven for eight for 106 yards and one touchdown.


USC offense enters red zone as first quarter ends

Tied 7-7, USC is threatening to score again as we enter the second quarter.

The Trojans have second-and-five on the Rice 14-yard line thanks in large part to a 29-yard pass from Caleb Willians to Kyron Hudson on third-and-eight. Running back Travis Dye, another one of USC’s key transfers, made a key block to give Williams enough time to throw the pass down field.

The first quarter of Lincoln Riley’s offense was as advertised as the Trojans averaged 9.3 yards per play and totaled 130 yards in less than two full drives.


Rice answers with a touchdown after long drive

Rice has entered the chat.

The Owls put together a methodical 16-play, 74-yard touchdown drive to tie the game at 7-7 with a one-yard touchdown run from Ari Broussard. Rice receiver Luke McCaffrey was called short of the goal line on third down, but the Owls didn’t hesitate to go for it on fourth down and match USC’s aggressive offense.

Rice converted three third downs of five yards or longer on the drive, going to the air each time. McCaffrey, the younger brother of former Stanford star Christian McCaffrey, had two of those critical receptions and four catches for 44 yards during the first drive.


Jordan Addison scores the first touchdown of Riley’s USC tenure

Now that’s how it’s done.

Jordan Addison scored USC’s first touchdown of the year, pulling in a five-yard pass from Caleb Williams as the Trojans went ahead 7-0 with 11:18 remaining in the first quarter.

The effortless first drive featured perfect four-for-four passing from Williams for 64 yards, highlighted by a 43-yard completion to Tahj Washington.

Freshman running back Raleek Brown also made his USC debut with two carries for seven yards on the first drive.


The Lincoln Riley era at USC is officially open

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. - SEP. 3, 2022. USC head coach Lincoln Riley watche his Trojans team warm up.
USC coach Lincoln Riley watches the Trojans warm up before Saturday’s game against Rice at the Coliseum.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Lincoln Riley isn’t wasting any time. USC won the coin toss and chose to receive the opening kickoff to start the Riley era.

At 94 degrees, this is the hottest USC home game since 2017. From my exploration of the field, I can confirm that it was very hot.


Lincoln Riley and portal-built USC hope their ‘arranged marriage’ spurs winning bliss

USC football coach Lincoln Riley watches players practice in March.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

After eight months of analyzing and tweaking and deftly maneuvering through college football’s first offseason of something akin to free agency, how was it going to feel early Friday morning for the new-look USC Trojans to finally be together at Brian Kennedy Field?

“I didn’t sleep very good last night,” first-year USC head coach Lincoln Riley said.

He smiled, but he seemed to be authentic in his anxiousness.

“It’s been a long road for this group to this point,” Riley said. “This group’s been challenged in a lot of different ways, and they’ve continued to respond. We’ve talked a lot obviously about how this roster’s come together, and I think for them they’re glad to have all their guys. Now let’s get to work and start building this.”

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Student Body Right plans to resurrect disbanded USC alumni clubs and pay players

USC coach Lincoln Riley speaks during Pac-12 media day in July.
(Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

Two years after USC abruptly disbanded its regional Trojan Clubs, sparking outrage among its alumni network, Student Body Right has plans to relaunch the clubs and build a fundraising network for name, image and likeness.

Student Body Right is the third-party collective that rankled university officials recently with its intent to pay Trojan football players.

Dale Rech, a co-founder of Student Body Right, confirmed to The Times that the new collective intends to convert the previously shuttered alumni clubs into individual chapters of the collective, each of which would operate independently under the umbrella of Student Body Right.

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Caleb Williams and Lincoln Riley ‘in lockstep’ heading into Year 2 together

USC quarterback Caleb Williams puts his helmet back on during practice in March.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

After everything they’d weathered during one year together, all Caleb Williams needed now from his coach was a look from the sideline. A shoulder shrug. A head nod. A thumbs-up. That, the USC quarterback says, would be signal enough for him to know exactly what Lincoln Riley was thinking.

By that point, the USC coach could usually tell what was coming from his quarterback, too.

“The way he walks out on the field, I can almost tell you the kind of day he’s going to have,” Riley said. “I’ve seen now so much, every mannerism and every word. I’ve got to a place where he can tell and I can kinda know what’s in his head even before. And I think he, in a lot of ways, [feels] the same thing with me. I think a lot of times I’m getting ready to make a point to him, whether it’s about playing the position or leading or anything and he can kinda take the words right from me. We’re in lockstep.”

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Lincoln Riley’s Oklahoma-imported D-coordinator is a barking grenade of intensity

USC coach Lincoln Riley, left, talks with defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.
USC coach Lincoln Riley, left, talks with defensive coordinator Alex Grinch during practice in March. Grinch knows expectations are high for the Trojans this season.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

A few days remain before his defense’s long-awaited debut at USC, but Alex Grinch’s vocal cords have already been through the ringer. What’s left of his voice comes out hoarse and gravelly. By this point in his career — entering Year 20 and his fourth stop as defensive coordinator — testing his vocal limits is such a time-honored tradition that Corbi, Grinch’s 10-year-old daughter, calls out dad’s disappearing voice as a sign the season is near.

“I like to bark. I just do,” Grinch said. “I think anyone can draw lines on a board and call themselves a coach.”

On this subject, USC’s new defensive coordinator is particularly blunt. He knows plenty of coaches say the right things, pontificating on toughness, on physicality, on discipline. Whether they actually do what’s necessary to instill those ideas, he suggests, is sometimes another story.

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Big Ten’s new media-rights deal: Better start times, more national exposure for UCLA, USC

Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren talks to reporters during a news conference in July.
(Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

The Big Ten has finalized a monumental media-rights agreement inspired by the NFL’s coast-to-coast takeover on Sundays — and paves a path to ending those late-night USC and UCLA games that only part of the country watches.

As of next fall, the conference will feature morning games on Fox, afternoon games on CBS and prime-time games on NBC.

“I think this media deal will give more attention to the West Coast schools,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren told The Times. “We’ll be starting at 9 in the morning Pacific time, and because of the quality of the games, with fans across four time zones, it’s going to give validity and credibility to all our games, from the morning, throughout the day and into the night.”

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‘I am a nobody’: Meet the Minnesota fan who signaled USC’s Big Ten move months ago

Greg Flugaur stands outside a stadium with his arm around his wife, Mireya Hernandez,
Greg Flugaur, shown with his wife, Mireya Hernandez, has become known for breaking college football news he receives from a big-moneyed University of Minnesota booster he refers to as BTM.
(Courtesy of Greg Flugaur)

March 31 felt like a pretty normal Minnesota spring day to Greg Flugaur. He took care of his elderly parents who live with him. It was cold, but not frigid by the standards of his northern tribe, so as night fell he went to a gas station to vacuum the inside of his 14-year-old dark grey Toyota Prius, the annual seasonal cleanse.

As the vacuum gobbled up the long winter, Flugaur’s phone buzzed. When he saw who was calling, he quickly stopped and answered.

It was his friend, the man he calls Big Ten Man — BTM for short. In recent years, BTM had become a benefactor of sorts for the 54-year-old Flugaur. The way it went, BTM, a big-moneyed University of Minnesota booster, would call Flugaur with information about the Golden Gophers and direct him to put it out there. Often that meant a message board post from Flugaur’s account on, the website for Minnesota fans, but these days, it also meant a tweet from Flugaur’s increasingly influential Twitter account, @flugempire.

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Inside Lincoln Riley’s Air Raid offense, known for constant evolution and misdirection

USC coach Lincoln Riley talks to player during warmups before a practice in March.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The ideas that would one day inspire a football revolution had been rattling around in Hal Mumme’s head for a few years before he finally had the chance to use them. It was 1986, and Mumme had just lost his job as Texas El Paso’s offensive coordinator. With nowhere to turn at the college level, Mumme retreated to the ranks of Texas high school football, where he inherited a struggling program with just a handful of wins during the previous decade.

Out of that desperation, the Air Raid’s roots first took hold in the central Texas soil, where three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust was long the offensive doctrine of choice. Mumme didn’t have that luxury at Copperas Cove High. The school’s best athletes weren’t even trying out for the football team.

“I needed an edge,” Mumme recalled, “or else this wasn’t going to work.”

So he strung wild ideas together into a fledgling philosophy, drawing primarily on intel he gathered years before on long car trips to Provo, Utah. Brigham Young coach LaVell Edwards and his staff had often welcomed the UTEP coordinator to pick their brains. During those sessions, Mumme grew enamored with Edwards’ offense, which soared to the 1984 national title with a high-flying pass attack that spread three or four receivers across the field.

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College football roundtable: How many wins do USC and UCLA need this season?

During the opening week of the college football season, staff writers Ben Bolch, Ryan Kartje, J. Brady McCollough and Thuc Nhi Nguyen addressed the most pressing questions facing the UCLA and USC football programs.

This season’s College Football Playoff national championship game will be played at SoFi Stadium, so they also tackled which team they believe will clinch the title in Inglewood.

How many wins does USC need to call this a successful season?

USC players head to practice.
USC players head to practice during the first day of fall training camp.
(Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

Kartje: The honeymoon energy in Troy is still going strong … for the moment, at least. I think most of the fans understand that a team doesn’t typically go from a 4-8 debacle to the precipice of the College Football Playoff, no matter who your coach happens to be. That said, this team has enough talent — and an easy enough schedule — to win at least nine games in the regular season, and that should be the expectation. So much hinges on the Trojans’ trip to Salt Lake City in October; beat the Utes, and suddenly we’re talking about a Pac-12 title favorite and a potential dark-horse playoff contender.

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USC vs. Rice: Here are six things to watch for in Lincoln Riley’s debut

Here are five things to watch for in the first game of the Lincoln Riley era at USC:

A transformed Trojan offense?

USC quarterback Caleb Williams (13) throws during NCAA college football practice
USC quarterback Caleb Williams transferred from Oklahoma during the offseason.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Over the last nine months, we’ve heard a lot about Riley’s brilliant offensive mind. Finally, on Saturday, we can evaluate what that means in practice at USC.

There’s good reason to expect fireworks. Riley added a Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback and a Biletnikoff Award winner at receiver. He revamped USC’s backfield and threw in three more starting wideouts from the portal for good measure. If everything clicks, USC’s offense has the talent to be one of the best in college football.

At every stop in his career, Riley has tailored his offenses to the talent at his disposal. In seven years at Oklahoma, the Sooners never finished worse than eighth nationally in scoring. He’ll have new wrinkles ready to deploy Saturday, leaving plenty to unpack in the weeks to come.

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Who will crash the College Football Playoff semifinals? A look at five contenders

Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders (3) scrambles against Notre Dame.
Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders scrambles against Notre Dame during the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1 in Glendale, Ariz. The Cowboys won 37-35.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

Which four teams will play for a trip to SoFi Stadium, the host of the College Football Playoff national championship game in January?

Alabama, we can go ahead and book. Defending champion Georgia, given its capability to reload and a favorable schedule, we can reasonably pencil in. The winner of Ohio State-Michigan, we can consider a near lock. Theoretically, that leaves one spot open in the highly contentious four-team format, and I’d like to think it will be someone bringing new blood to the CFP semifinals.

Of course, there could be more unpredictability. Last year, because Clemson and Oklahoma fell off from their dominance over their leagues, Cincinnati broke through as the first Group of Five team to receive an invite. Michigan also upset Ohio State to take the Big Ten’s assumed reservation and make its first CFP appearance.

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