USC handles Stanford by taking a comfortable lead and withstanding late Stanford push
Chapter two of the Lincoln Riley era lacked much suspense or a surprise ending, but it was compelling stuff for USC fans who figure dominating Stanford ought to be a given.
Dominate the Trojans did until the fourth quarter. Behind quarterback Caleb Williams, an explosive offensive supporting cast and a defense that had trouble tackling but forced four turnovers, USC won 41-28 on Saturday in Palo Alto.
Stanford trailed 41-14 entering the fourth quarter and scored two touchdowns while it seemed USC was content to milk the clock and get to the locker room. After Stanford sacked Williams on third down with just under three minutes to play, USC needed to snap out of it and finish off the Cardinal.
After a punt, Stanford took possession at its four-yard-line with 2:30 to play. The Trojans’ defense stiffened, and consecutive sacks on third and fourth down gave the ball back to USC at the Cardinal 10-yard line with 27 seconds to play.
Williams, who followed Riley from Oklahoma to USC, completed 20 of 27 passes for 341 yards and four touchdowns.
Jordan Addison and Mario Williams looked for all the world the best receiving tandem in college football. Addison, the 2021 Fred Biletnikoff Award winner at Pittsburgh last season, had seven catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Williams, who along with his quarterback and coach left Oklahoma for USC, caught four balls for 71 yards and a touchdown.
The running game was to Dye for, spearheaded by Travis Dye’s 105 yards and one touchdown in 14 carries. Dye, who rushed for 3,111 yards in four years at Oregon, transferred to USC and established himself Saturday as a reliable every-down option.
This Pac-12 Conference opener clearly left USC as a team to beat. Sure, everyone but defending champion Utah, Colorado and Oregon won their nonconference openers, but the ease with which the Trojans dispatched the Cardinal — who beat them last season and triggered the firing of coach Clay Helton — signaled that Riley’s resuscitation of the program is underway.
USC punts for the first time tonight
Aadyn Sleep-Dalton won’t get the whole night off after all.
USC was forced to punt for the first time with 7:54 to go, leading 41-21.
Sleep-Dalton notched a 28-yard punt that was downed at the Stanford 30-yard line. It was his second punt of the game.
Stanford scores on short touchdown run
Stanford’s first fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line ended with a USC interception. Facing the same situation in the fourth quarter, the Cardinal powered into the end zone for a touchdown by Casey Filkins.
Stanford trails 41-21 with 10:21 to go in the fourth. This is the first time a team has scored on USC in the second half after the Trojans shut Rice out after halftime last week.
USC extends lead after third quarter
USC enters the fourth quarter with a 41-14 lead.
The offense has slowed down, settling for just three field-goal attempts and six points in the quarter, while the defense continues to live up to its ball-hawking philosophy with a third-quarter fumble recovery.
Caleb Williams has completed 17 of 22 passes for 325 yards and four touchdowns. He has 13 rushing yards in eight carries.
Jordan Addison has 172 receiving yards with six catches and two touchdowns.
USC adds third field goal
Denis Lynch bounced back from his missed field-goal attempt with a 42-yard kick to put USC up 41-14 with 55 seconds left in the third quarter.
USC has now settled for field goals on three consecutive drives after scoring five straight touchdowns in the first half. Instead of emphasizing their dynamic passing game, the Trojans have turned to the running game with 13 carries in the second half to seven pass attempts.
USC defense forces fourth takeaway
It’s no problem that USC has failed to score touchdowns on consecutive drives for the first time this year. The defense can pick up the slack.
The USC defense forced its fourth takeaway of the game and eighth of the season as defensive end Tuli Tuipulotu punched the ball free from Stanford running back E.J. Smith. Although it appeared that Jacobe Covington returned the fumble for a 28-yard touchdown, a replay review indicated that the defensive back’s knee was down while he recovered the ball.
USC will take over at the Stanford 29-yard line with a 38-14 lead with 3:09 left in the third.
Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch set a goal of 24 takeaways this season, but less than two games into the season, USC is already a third of the way there.
Caleb Williams sacked, USC’s field-goal attempt misses wide left
For the first time this season, USC walked away from a drive with Caleb Williams at quarterback without points.
Williams was sacked on third-and-nine, getting dropped for a six-yard loss by Stanford’s Patrick Fields. Left tackle Courtland Ford was beaten on the play, forcing Williams to scramble in the backfield.
Freshman kicked Denis Lynch, who had yet to miss a field-goal or extra-point attempt this season, pushed his 39-yard kick wide left, leaving USC up 38-14 with 3:54 left in the third quarter.
After gaining 244 of its 366 first-half yards through the air, USC tested its run game during the latest drive. The Trojans ran on six consecutive plays after a first-down completion from Williams to Gary Bryant Jr. Williams flashed his dual-threat ability on a 10-yard scramble on third-and-12. He earned a first down because of a horse-collar tackle penalty on Stanford.
The quarterback has completed 17 of 22 passes for 325 yards and four touchdowns with 13 rushing yards in eight carries. He has been sacked twice.
USC opens second half with field goal
USC’s first drive of the second half ended with a 45-yard field goal from Denis Lynch to put the Trojans up 38-14 with 13:49 left in the third quarter.
The drive looked destined for another touchdown early as Caleb Williams found Jordan Addison for a 48-yard pass on the first play of the second half. But USC didn’t gain another yard on the next three plays.
It’s just the second time this season USC has kicked a field goal on a Williams-quarterbacked drive.
USC takes 35-14 lead into halftime
The only thing that can stop USC’s offense is the halftime whistle.
After getting the ball with 1:08 left in the first half, USC settled for a conservative drive and a 35-14 lead going into the break.
Before the final drive, USC had scored touchdowns on five consecutive drives.
The USC offense faced its first third down with 52 seconds left in the half. The Trojans had no problem converting with a 15-yard completion from Caleb Williams to Jordan Addison on third-and-eight. But Williams was sacked for a 13-yard loss on the next play.
It was a small blip on an otherwise flawless half for Williams, who was 13-of-15 passing for 244 yards and four touchdowns. Addison led the team with 124 receiving yards in five catches with two touchdowns. Travis Dye had 77 rushing yards in eight carries.
The USC defense has given up 319 yards but created three turnovers. The Trojans have forced seven takeaways in six quarters this season: six interceptions and one fumble.
Travis Dye runs untouched for USC’s fifth touchdown
Not only has USC yet to punt in this first half, but the Trojans have yet to even face a third down.
The streak has stretched late into the second quarter as Travis Dye ran untouched up the middle on first-and-10 to score a 27-yard touchdown that put USC up 35-14 with 2:33 left in the first half.
Quarterback Caleb Williams showed off his mastery of the offense by changing the play at the line of scrimmage, earning kudos from USC legend Reggie Bush.
USC has now scored touchdowns on all five of its first-half possessions. The Trojans have scored on all 11 drives quarterbacked by Williams this season, with 10 touchdowns. Williams led five touchdown drives in six attempts last week against Rice before going to the bench in the fourth quarter.
E.J. Smith scores for Stanford
Is this a track meet or a football game?
Stanford answered back with a five-yard touchdown run from E.J. Smith to cut the USC lead to 28-14 with 6:13 to go in the second quarter.
We’re already over the 500-yard mark between both teams. Stanford has 300 yards, including 159 on the ground, using a slow mesh play that’s punishing the USC defense. The mesh play is a cornerstone of Lincoln Riley’s offense, which my colleague Ryan Kartje broke down before the season. But the way Stanford is running it with a delayed handoff is really giving the USC defense fits. The Cardinal are averaging seven yards per carry.
But USC’s offense is definitely ready to fight fire with fire. The Trojans are averaging 7.4 yards per carry and have 274 yards, with 200 coming through the air.
Mario Williams opens his USC account
Mario Williams starred during USC’s fourth touchdown drive, catching a 50-yard pass from quarterback Caleb Williams, then juking Stanford’s Jonathan McGill on a 15-yard touchdown pass.
It was Mario Williams’ first touchdown as a Trojan since transferring, along with his quarterback, from Oklahoma.
Mario Williams has three receptions with 65 yards and one touchdown. Caleb Williams is eight-for-10 passing for 200 yards and four touchdowns. His quarterback rating, if you believe in that stat, is an eye-popping 380. That’s not a typo.
USC’s first forced fumble ends another dangerous Stanford opportunity
Six interceptions and now one forced fumble for the USC defense in less than six quarters of play.
Max Williams, who had an interception earlier today, added a forced fumble at USC’s two-yard line, snuffing out another Stanford scoring opportunity. Mekhi Blackmon, who has a pick today, jumped on the loose ball to secure it for the Trojans.
USC leads 21-7 with 12:15 to go in the second quarter.
Running back E.J. Smith, who has a team-high 76 rushing yards in 14 carries, lost the fumble. Stanford is averaging 7.3 yards per rush and has 233 yards but only one touchdown with three turnovers.
USC rush end Romello Height is also out for the rest of the game, according to ESPN’s Holly Rowe. Height, who sat out part of last week’s game against Rice after being ejected for targeting, had ice on his right shoulder, according to Rowe.
USC leads at the end of first quarter
Catch your breath. It’s the end of the first quarter.
The teams combined for more than 300 yards in the first 15 minutes — USC with 191 yards and Stanford with 178.
Caleb Williams is backing up his stellar debut from last week. He’s six-of-seven passing for 142 yards and three touchdowns. Jordan Addison has two of those scores with 97 receiving yards in two catches. Tight end Lake McRee has the other touchdown.
Stanford’s Tanner McKee has had some back luck with tipped passes that resulted in two interceptions. He’s six-of-11 passing for 63 yards and one touchdown.
True to their reputation as a physical football team under coach David Shaw, the Cardinal are dominating on the ground, with 115 rushing yards in 15 carries. They’re averaging 7.7 yards per carry.
USC answers back in one play
Well, dang. Caleb Williams and Jordan Addison have it like that.
One play after Stanford’s touchdown drive appeared to grab some momentum for the home team, USC snatched the energy right back with a 75-yard touchdown pass from Williams to Addison. Addison, running one-on-one down the middle of the field, broke through a would-be tackle and scored his second touchdown of the day to put the Trojans up 21-7 with 46 seconds left in the first quarter.
Addison has 97 receiving yards in two catches, scoring a touchdown on each reception.
Stanford exposes USC’s defensive weaknesses on touchdown drive
Stanford has entered the chat.
The Cardinal scored on a wide-open three-yard touchdown pass from Tanner McKee to E.J. Smith with 57 seconds left in the first quarter. USC leads 14-7.
While they scored on a pass, the Cardinal are doing most of their damage on the ground, gaining 120 of their 160 yards. They caught the Trojans flat-footed on the scoring drive, ripping off a 50-yard gain on a nifty reverse.
Even on the previous drive that ended in a key interception, Stanford started flexing its muscle in the run game, with rushes of 15 and 18 yards.
The Trojans, despite celebrating a huge 66-14 win over Rice last week, showed some weakness against the run last week. The Owls earned 218 rushing yards in the first half in 20 carries, an average of 6.7 per carry. Stanford is averaging 9.2 yards per rush.
Jordan Addison scores USC’s second touchdown
Just like its defensive counterparts, the USC offense has picked up right where it left off last week.
The Trojans scored again off an interception, going up 14-0 with 4:03 to go in the first quarter after a 22-yard touchdown pass from Caleb Williams to Jordan Addison.
Williams faked a handoff to Travis Dye and threw a short screen pass to Addison, who had no problem running untouched into the end zone.
Williams is five-of-six passing for 67 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter. He has completed each of his passes to a different receiver. Dye is USC’s leading rusher with 21 yards in three carries.
Another interception ends Stanford touchdown threat
As DJ Khaled would say: “Another one.”
Mekhi Blackmon turned a drive seemingly destined for a Stanford tying touchdown into a second USC interception as he picked off Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee in the end zone on fourth down.
The Cardinal appeared to have a touchdown on a toe-tap four-yard catch in the back of the end zone from Brycen Tremayne, but Tremayne’s heel was ruled to be out of bounds after a review. The Cardinal were content to settle for a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the four-yard line, but an offsides penalty on Brandon Pili prompted a change in strategy from the Stanford sideline. The Cardinal lined up to go for it from the two-yard line and McKee faked a handoff. He pulled the ball back and lofted a pass toward the end zone, but it was tipped and picked off by Blackmon, who nearly had a pick on the opening play as well.
The Trojans now have six interceptions this season in less than five quarters of play.
USC capitalizes on interception with touchdown
Caleb Williams started off USC’s drive with an unorthodox back-handed handoff but finished it with a more traditional five-yard touchdown pass to Lake McRee.
The Trojans jumped ahead 7-0 with 12:38 left in the first half as they needed just four plays to score after Max Williams’ interception.
Running back Travis Dye had 18 yards on the ground in two carries, including an 11-yard run up the middle.
USC defense picks up right where it left off
USC had four interceptions in last week’s win against Rice and needed only three plays against Stanford to grab another.
Max Williams picked off a tipped pass by Tanner McKee and returned it 32 yards to set up the USC offense at the Stanford 33-yard line.
USC starts Pac-12 play at Stanford
Hello from Stanford Stadium! This is Thuc Nhi Nguyen. I’ll be piloting the live blog from Palo Alto today.
Stanford won the coin toss and will receive the opening kickoff. Alex Stadthaus’ kick went through the end zone for a touchback.
After a 66-14 win over Rice last week to open the Lincoln Riley era, today’s nationally televised game is a key early season test for the top-10 team. The Cardinal ended Clay Helton’s USC tenure in this Week 2 matchup last year.
‘It was just so exciting.’ Tyrone Taleni’s parents saw the USC lineman achieve his dream
Five years after their son left Samoa in search of a future in football, Jack and Lise Taleni gazed up from their seats Saturday, awestruck at the sight of his face flashing across the Coliseum videoboard while tens of thousands of fans cheered him in unison.
The last time they’d seen Tyrone in person, he’d barely ever watched an American football game, let alone played in one. Now their son was chasing down an opposing quarterback for USC, pulling him to the turf for his first sack as a Trojan. It was a surreal moment. Around them, family and friends screamed and jumped for joy. So Jack and Lise, having never attended an American football game, followed their lead, smiling wide as they celebrated their son.
“It was a new experience for us, being there,” said Lise, Tyrone’s mother. “So we just went along with what everyone else was doing, screaming and shouting and tapping each other. It was really exciting for us.”
Lincoln Riley’s USC Trojans are Pac-12’s best playoff shot
The day after Utah lost to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, I talked with George Kliavkoff. The Pac-12 commissioner was frustrated by the state of football in his league, and that’s putting it mildly.
As he discussed the challenges of getting his presidents and chancellors to buy fully into a football-first mentality, there was one sparkling glimmer of hope.
USC had finally decided to reenter the fray, hiring Lincoln Riley.
“The immediate change to the recruiting dynamic that USC has clearly benefited from will help other Pac-12 schools,” Kliavkoff told me. “Kids want to play for a guy like Lincoln Riley, and they want to compete against a guy like Lincoln Riley. I think it will elevate everyone for years to come.”
Austin Jones’ fresh start at USC takes him back to Stanford this week
As Stanford’s lead back last season, Austin Jones grew accustomed to running into crowded boxes.
No one in the Cardinal backfield could find much room to run a year ago. A football program known for its physical front and imposing ground game fell to last in the Pac-12 and 126th nationally, unable to scrounge more than 86 rushing yards per outing. The offense ground to a halt because of it — Jones, in his third season, led the team in carries (107), but managed a mere 3.5 yards per tote. He entered the NCAA transfer portal soon after the season ended in search of a new start.
He found it with Lincoln Riley at USC, where Jones has already established himself as a crucial member of a committee backfield with the Trojans. While he received just four carries in his USC debut last week against Rice, two went for touchdowns. The 48 rushing yards he tallied in that brief cameo were more than he managed in all but two games last year.
The best places to eat, sleep, watch football and have fun in Pac-12 country
Before UCLA and USC leave the Pac-12 in 2024, fans have a chance to hit the road and check out the conference’s best outposts.
Our panel of four college sports writers have traversed Pac-12 country for years, arriving early and leaving late. They explored the Arizona desert, mountains of Utah and Colorado and vast landscape along the Pacific coast.
We’ve ranked every Pac-12 city and shared hidden gems that help convert them from quick game-day getaways to ultimate road trip weekends.
We omitted the Los Angeles schools from our rankings because it’s too difficult to evaluate the place we live as a road trip. However, we included L.A. recommendations in our guide in case you’re hosting out of town visitors or planning a visit.
USC vs. Stanford: Betting odds, picks, lines and predictions
USC visits Stanford on Saturday afternoon in the Pac-12 opener for both teams as an 8½-point road favorite (at most Las Vegas sportsbooks).
Both teams enter the matchup after coasting in nonconference games against weaker competition.
The Trojans didn’t just steam Rice, they blanched it in a 66-14 rout as they scored every time they had the ball through the first three quarters. And when they didn’t have the ball, the defense took it away and had not one, not two, but three pick sixes. Coach Lincoln Riley’s debut was a resounding success and Caleb Williams — the quarterback he brought with him from Oklahoma — was an efficient 19 for 22 for 249 yards and two touchdowns to junior wide receiver Jordan Addison. Williams probably could have padded his stats even more like other star quarterbacks if the defense hadn’t taken so many interceptions to the house, though they thrilled the 60,000 fans at the Coliseum.
USC vs. Stanford: Three things to watch for in the Pac-12 opener
The bed, still rolled out in Lincoln Riley’s office as of Thursday late morning, spoke volumes. As he enters Pac-12 play for the first time, there’s still a lot of unfamiliar territory for USC’s new coach to cover within his new conference.
He’s tried to cram in as much of that studying ahead of time.
“The opponents are new, it’s new traveling, it’s new schedules, it’s new everything,” Riley said. “So we’ve tried to do as much work on the front end to expedite some of this and make it feel less new. But the reality is every part of these weeks, especially in the first part of the season, is new and most of these opponents are people that we haven’t played against. So it’s fun.”
Of course, each Pac-12 trip from here will presumably be a one-off for the coach, with USC leaving for the Big Ten in 2024. Nonetheless, his first stop on that brief conference tour comes against Stanford.