USC defense helps power No. 7 Trojans to win at Oregon State

Southern California running back Travis Dye rushes during the first half.
USC running back Travis Dye carries the ball against Oregon State in the first half Saturday.
(Amanda Loman / Associated Press)

USC’s defense forced four turnovers, helping the Trojans a bumpy night for the offense and grind out a 17-14 road win over Oregon State Saturday.

Surprise! With its backs against the wall, USC got the biggest lift from its defense during a 17-14 win at Oregon State Saturday night.

The defense was a big question entering this season, but its consistent ability to force turnovers took pressure off the inconsistent offense.

Caleb Williams to Jordan Addison TD saves USC in comeback vs. Oregon State

USC wide receiver Jordan Addison celebrates his go-ahead touchdown reception late in the fourth quarter.
USC wide receiver Jordan Addison celebrates his go-ahead touchdown reception late in the fourth quarter of the Trojans’ 17-14 win over Oregon State on Saturday night.
(Amanda Loman / Associated Press)

CORVALLIS, Ore. — The trap was laid, just like it had been many times before. Another USC football team with title potential driving toward destiny, only to take a dangerous detour through the Willamette Valley to Oregon State, where nothing ever seems to go as planned for the Trojans.

It’d been a decade since their last defeat here, but the specter of those ill-fated trips still loomed, years of bad voodoo coursing through these half-finished bleachers. The four terrible turnovers in 2006. The Jacquizz Rodgers game in 2008. Both losses stunningly slammed the door on the Trojans’ national title hopes, leaving USC haunted about what might have been.

Those devastating disappointments seemed a fitting prelude as No. 7 USC entered Saturday’s final Pac-12 trip to Corvallis with similar, sky-high hype, soaring up the polls and into the playoff conversation, only to run headlong into a brick wall against the Beavers.

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USC’s fourth interception seals Trojan victory

Down four with less than five minutes to go, Lincoln Riley had a simple message for his quarter. Pac-12 Network cameras caught the USC head coach speaking to Caleb Williams speaking on the sideline before the USC offense took the field on a critical drive.

“The time is now,” Riley told him.

Williams delivered, leading a go-ahead 11-play, 84-yard touchdown drive that gave USC a 17-14 lead over Oregon State after a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Addison.

Max Williams sealed the victory and snuffed out Oregon State’s comeback attempt with an interception on a tipped pass. It was USC’s fourth interception of the game as the team’s maligned defense carried the offense that was uncharacteristically uncomfortable.

“The defense was unbelievable all night,” Riley said on Pac-12 Network after the game. “They kept us in it. ... Tonight’s about defense.”

USC improved to 4-0 while handing Oregon State (3-1) its first loss of the year.

Caleb Williams was 16-for-36 for 180 passing yards in the worst game of his still young USC career. USC relied on Travis Dye for 133 rushing yards.

With their four takeaways, USC’s turnover margin goes to plus-14. The offense has yet to commit a turnover. Max Williams, Eric Gentry, Mekhi Blackmon and Ceyair Wright came up with interceptions to stop Oregon State quarterback Chance Nolan, who was 17-of-29 passing for 167 yards.


USC answers with touchdown to Jordan Addison

Jordan Addison saved his biggest catch for the biggest moment.

The receiver connected with Caleb Williams for a 21-yard touchdown pass that put USC up 17-14 with 1:13 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Addison has only three catches for 42 yards tonight, but his first touchdown couldn’t come at a better time as the Trojans are trying to survive a road game in Corvallis while their offense is struggling.

The Trojans barely converted on fourth-and-six on the drive, needing a key push from center Brett Neilon. Williams was forced to scramble on the play and was met by Oregon State tacklers just short of the line-to-gain, but Neilon came in and pushed his quarterback over the line at the last moment.

Williams is 16-of-36 passing for 180 yards.


Oregon State jumps ahead

It didn’t take long for the momentum USC grabbed with its third interception to shift back toward Oregon State.

The Beavers regained the lead with an 18-yard touchdown run from Jam Griffin, jumping ahead 14-10 with 4:41 remaining.

Oregon State capitalized on a short field after the defense flipped the field with a big stop. The USC offense couldn’t do anything after Mekhi Blackmon’s interception, going three-and-out and punting from the one-yard line. Aadyn Sleep-Dalton, who caught the snap with his heels near the back of the end zone, notched only 33 yards on his kick and Oregon State’s Anthony Gould returned it for 13 yards, putting the Beavers at the USC 22-yard line.

Griffin ran for four yards on first down, then finished the drive on the next play.


USC defense delivers another takeaway

As DJ Khaled would say: Another one.

The USC defense came up with another takeaway — this time an interception from Mekhi Blackmon — to stop the Oregon State defense and maintain USc’s 10-7 lead with 7:23 remaining.

The Trojans got the ball at their own five-yard line.

USC as a plus-13 turnover margin and three takeaways tonight. The offense has yet to commit a turnover this season.


USC exhales as Oregon State misses a field goal

It looked as if USC would be facing first-and-goal against an offense that had yet to leave a red zone opportunity without points. Instead, the Trojans returned to the sidelines elated with a 10-7 lead.

Oregon State’s Everett Hayes missed a 46-yard field goal with 8:34 remaining after the Beavers spoiled their own promising drive with back-to-back third-down penalties. A holding call — which was the game’s first penalty called during the run of play — negated a 13-yard gain on a third-and-seven that would have put the Beavers at the USC six-yard line. A delay of game penalty on the Beavers backed them up again, forcing Hayes into a long field goal attempt after Chance Nolan’s third-down pass fell incomplete.


USC finally finds the end zone

USC has entered the chat. Finally.

Travis Dye scored USC’s first touchdown of the night on a seven-yard rush to put USC ahead 10-7 with 14:18 remaining.

Dye rushed for three on third-and-five from the Oregon State 10-yard line. Lincoln Riley didn’t hesitate on fourth down and gave the ball back to his workhorse running back, who high stepped through some Oregon State tacklers to score.

Oregon State’s rushing attack has been a staple under coach Jonathan Smith, but USC is thriving on the ground as well, led by Dye’s 113 rushing yards. The Trojans are outrushing Oregon State 152-93.


USC threatening for first touchdown as third quarter ends

Entering the fourth quarter, USC still has not scored a touchdown. But the Trojans are getting close.

The Trojans, trailing 7-3, have the ball at the Oregon State 10-yard line after a five-yard pass ftrom Caleb Williams to Brenden Rice as the third quarter ended. USC has their best scoring opportunity of the night thanks to an interception from Ceyair Wright.

Williams has struggled all night, having completed just 11 of 25 passes for 123 yards. Travis Dye has eclipsed 100 rushing yards for the third consecutive week with 103 yards on 12 carries.


USC defense adds another takeaway

The offense carried USC through the first three weeks. Now its defense is leading.

With the offense struggling, Ceyair Wright grabbed USC’s second takeaway of the night to stop a promising Oregon State drive. Wright picked off a pass from Oregon State quarterback Chance Nolan and returned the ball 14 yards to the Oregon State 26, giving USC a prime scoring opportunity.

USC has two takeaways tonight and have a plus-12 turnover margin on the season.


Caleb Williams under pressure, USC punts

Caleb Williams was sacked twice on USC’s latest drive, but he wiggled out of at least three additional negative plays.

Oregon State’s defensive front is putting major pressure on the USC quarterback, whose 11-yard loss on third-and-12 prompted a punt from Aadyn Sleep-Dalton with 4:49 remaining in the third quarter.

USC still trails 7-3.

Williams was under fire on the very first play of the drive, when he was nearly sacked in the end zone. He had to rush to throw the ball away to avoid a safety after the Trojans started their drive at the 1-yard line. USC avoided an even bigger disaster on the following play when Travis Dye rushed up the middle and fumbled. Offensive lineman Bobby Haskins jumped on the loose ball at the one-yard line to avoid USC’s first turnover of the season.

Facing third-and-10, Williams couldn’t have picked a better time to find Jordan Addison for his first catch of the day, connecting with the star receiver for 17 yards.

Williams continued to will the Trojans downfield, scrambling out of the pocket and ducking past would-be tacklers. Despite starting with their heels on their own goal line, the Trojans pushed into Oregon State territory. After Williams was dragged down on third down from the Oregon State 34, USC punted, which was downed at the three-yard line.

Williams is nine-of-23 passing for 113 yards. Dye has 98 rushing yards on 11 carries.


Oregon State starts second half on offense

Oregon State, leading 7-3, gets the first offensive possession of the second half and will add the benefit of a USC kickoff out of bounds.

With the flag, the Beavers start their drive on the 35-yard line.


USC trails at halftime as offense struggles

USC’s offense could use some halftime coffee.

The Trojans trail 7-3 at the break to Oregon State as Caleb Williams, who looked nearly unstoppable in the first three games, has completed just six of 18 passes for 64 yards. He’s wiggled out of a few sacks and run for 19 yards on three carries. Shockingly, Jordan Addison, who has five receiving touchdowns this season, wasn’t targeted for a single pass.

USC got a key defensive stop to give the offense another chance at the end of the first half. Max Williams and Shane Lee combined to stop Alex Austin for a two-yard gain on third-and-five with about a minute remaining. An Oregon State false start on fourth down prompted a punt that was downed with 31 seconds left. But USC took over at its own 11-yard line and settled for just 13 yards on three plays before halftime.

Travis Dye is starring for the USC offense with 92 yards on nine carries. Despite the score, the Trojans are still outgaining Oregon State 190-179.

Oregon State quarterback Chance Nolan is nine-of-11 passing for 96 yards and one interception, which was snagged by USC linebacker Eric Gentry.


USC settles for field goal after interception

USC is finally on the board with a 42-yard field goal from Denis Lynch.

The Trojans, who trail 7-3 with 5:38 remaining in the second quarter, were aggressive after Eric Gentry’s interception. Lincoln Riley dialed up a long throw from Caleb Williams to Mario Williams on the first play, but the attempt fell incomplete. The former Oklahoma teammates connected on second-and-15 though for 22 yards to spark the drive, which continued to the following play with a 19-yard rush from Travis Dye.

But Oregon State kept the Trojans to just five yards on the next set of downs, forcing Lynch’s field goal attempt.


Eric Gentry’s interception stops Oregon State drive

Maybe a takeaway will help jumpstart the USC offense.

Trojans linebacker Eric Gentry earned his first takeaway of the season, intercepting a tipped pass from Oregon State quarterback Chance Nolan to give the ball back to the USC at its own 34-yard line.

Gentry is the third linebacker to get an interception this year, joining Shane Lee and Ralen Goforth, who both scored pick-sixes in USC’s season-opening win against Rice. Goforth joked that week that he was poking fun at Gentry for not joining the interception club.


USC offense still sputtering

Three drives and still no points for the Trojans.

Oregon State’s defense had flustered the seemingly unstoppable USC offense, forcing the Trojans to burn all three timeouts before halftime.

Pac-12 Network cameras caught quarterback Caleb Williams clapping at his teammates, seemingly to get them re-focused, after the Trojans called their third timeout of the half with 11:19 remaining in the second quarter.

Two plays later, without anymore timeouts to use, USC had to take a delay of game penalty on second-and-10.

Williams, who is three-of-12 passing for 30 yards, completed two passes on the drive, but threw an incomplete pass intended for Terrell Bynum on third-and-15, prompting a punt from Aadyn Sleep-Dalton with 10:08 remaining in the second quarter. It was the Austrailian’s sixth punt of the year.


Oregon State strikes first

USC is trailing for the first time this season after Oregon State scored on a four-yard touchdown run with 13:18 remaining in the second quarter.

Deshaun Fenwick capped a 10-play, 80-yard Oregon State drive with a physical touchdown run over the left side to put the Beavers up 7-0.

Oregon State and USC are both averaging 6.2 yards per play, but the Trojans are relying heavily on their run game, which has 100 of the team’s 111 yards.


Oregon State enters red zone as first quarter ends

Oregon State is knocking on the door for the game’s first points after converting a fourth-and-four to close the first quarter.

The Beavers kept the chains moving on fourth down with a 24-yard pass from Chance Nolan to Anthony Gould. The receiver raced to the USC 20-yard line, putting Oregon State into the red zone, where it’s a perfect 14-for-14 on scoring opportunties this season.

USC, which was a first-quarter scoring machine, was held scoreless after quarterback Caleb Williams completed just one of his six pass attempts in the first quarter.

Nolan is six-for-seven for 65 yards.


USC field goal sails wide on second drive

USC’s offense is off to a shaky start. Not only have the Trojans burned through two timeouts in the first quarter, but they remain scoreless after two drives as freshman Denis Lynch’s 35-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left with 3:16 remaining in the first quarter.

Travis Dye, who began his college career at Oregon, is a bright spot with 70 rushing yards on six attempts. He entered the game with 482 career rushing yards against the Beavers from his Oregon career.

Caleb Williams is just one-for-six passing for 11 yards and misfired to Tahj Washington on third down, which brought Lynch on for the field goal attempt.


Mater Dei’s Domani Jackson makes collegiate debut

Freshman defensive back Domani Jackson made his college debut on USC’s first defensive drive and made a good first impression with a tackle on second-and-10.

Jackson, an early enrollee out of Santa Ana Mater Dei, helped the Trojans stop Oregon State on the drive. The Beavers settled for a punt on fourth-and-seven from the USC 44-yard line and pinned the Trojans on their own 10-yard line.

Tuli Tuipulotu came up with a key play on third down, batting down a pass at the line of scrimmage.


USC fails to score on first drive

For the first time this season, USC didn’t score on its opening drive of a game.

The Beavers stopped USC on fourth-and-five from the Oregon State 42-yard line as Caleb Williams’ pass intended for Mario Williams fell incomplete. It’s a rare first-quarter miscue for the Trojans, who scored touchdowns on every first-quarter drive they had in their first three games (a perfect seven-for-seven).

The Trojans got off to a promising start with a 36-yard rush from Travis Dye on the opening play from scrimmage. The former Oregon running back is coming off back-to-back 100-yard rushing weeks.

Caleb Williams missed all three of his passes during the opening drive.


USC starts on offense against fellow unbeaten Oregon State

Hello, this is Thuc Nhi Nguyen, your live blog pilot for tonight’s meeting of undefeated Pac-12 foes.

No. 7 USC (3-0) is trying to continue its hot start under Lincoln Riley and will get a big test against Oregon State, which is 3-0 for the first time since 2014. We have our USC beat writer Ryan Kartje on the scene at Reser Stadium, where USC will begin with the ball after Oregon State won the coin toss and deferred.

You’re probably asking why such an interesting matchup is stuck on Pac-12 Network. Well, my colleague J. Brady McCollough explains that it goes back to the Pac-12 Network contract, which guarantees that the conference’s networks will carry at least three USC games this season. This is the second USC game on the Pac-12 Networks this season, leaving plenty of late-season games that will carry potential College Football Playoff implications for the nationally televised slots.


USC receiver Gary Bryant Jr. expected to redshirt

USC wide receiver Gary Bryant Jr. sets up for a play during the second half of a Nov. 27, 2021 game against BYU.
USC wide receiver Gary Bryant Jr. sets up for a play during the second half of a Nov. 27, 2021 game against BYU at the Coliseum.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

One of USC’s top receivers from last season is preparing to sit out the rest of this one.

Junior Gary Bryant Jr. is expected to redshirt this season, coach Lincoln Riley said Tuesday. Bryant, who had caught just two passes in three weeks, is free to play in one more game while retaining his ability to redshirt.

The decision to sit Bryant for the rest of the season is a surprising turn for a receiver who ranked among the most productive playmakers in USC’s passing attack last year. Bryant scored seven touchdowns and tallied 579 yards for an offense that was without its top target, Drake London, for the second half of the season. Bryant also served as one of USC’s top returners.

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Roundtable: What has surprised you the most about USC?

Los Angeles Times college football writers Ben Bolch, Ryan Kartje, J. Brady McCollough and Thuc Nhi Nguyen discuss what we’ve learned from the Trojans, the Bruins and the rest of the Pac-12 so far.

What has surprised you the most about USC?

USC coach Lincoln Riley talks with quarterback Caleb Williams.
USC coach Lincoln Riley talks with quarterback Caleb Williams before the Trojans face off against Fresno State at the Coliseum on Saturday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Nguyen: The ruthless efficiency of the offense. We knew they were going to be good — with transfers like that, it was a given — but to be this good, this quick? I didn’t see that happening.

Kartje: The Trojans’ three-headed rushing attack of Travis Dye, Austin Jones and, to a lesser extent, freshman Raleek Brown has far exceeded my expectations. Riley has insisted since his hire that he was committed to the run, and so far those three have delivered in a big way. Dye and Jones each surpassed 100 yards rushing against Fresno State. Brown has been nursing a sore ankle since Week 1, when he was the most explosive player on the field for USC. Don’t be surprised if he becomes a much bigger part of the offense, making that backfield trio even more lethal.

McCollough: I’m most surprised by how excited I am to watch every Saturday (sadly, it seems we’re going to have to keep waiting for the “After Dark” slot a bit longer). We all knew that the offense was going to be improved with Lincoln Riley and the star transfers, but I was pretty underwhelmed by Riley’s last offense at Oklahoma and was curious if he was losing a bit of his pixie dust. Guess not. USC is so fun to watch, and Riley seems fully dialed in as a play caller like he was early on with the Sooners. Sometimes, a change of scenery is all that’s needed.

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USC pass rusher Romello Height likely out for remainder of season

USC defensive end Romello Height speaks with Mekhi Blackmon and Latrell McCutchin during spring game.
USC defensive end Romello Height (2) speaks with Mekhi Blackmon, left, and Latrell McCutchin during the Trojans’ spring game at the Coliseum in April. Height saw only brief playing time this season because of a shoulder injury.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Romello Height, the edge rusher who transferred from Auburn to USC to stabilize the Trojans’ pass rush, is likely to miss the rest of this season after undergoing surgery on his injured shoulder this week.

Height played only briefly through the Trojans’ first two games while dealing with the lingering injury. He sat out last Saturday’s meeting with Fresno State, in the hope that his shoulder might improve with rest, coach Lincoln Riley said at the time.

A few days later, Height had surgery, which Riley said Thursday will require “a long-term recovery.” He then clarified that the redshirt sophomore is likely to miss the rest of the season.

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Meet Raleek Brown, a Stockton youth football legend churning toward USC fame

USC running back Raleek Brown celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Rice on Sept. 3.
USC running back Raleek Brown celebrates with a Heisman Trophy pose after scoring a touchdown against Rice on Sept. 3.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Sometimes, you just know. You feel it deep in your gut. Not so much an instinct as an instant, unimpeachable sense of certainty so clear nothing could convince you otherwise.

That’s how Mori Sue’sue felt seeing Raleek Brown on a football field. He just knew. He knew before warmups of that first Little League All-Star tryout were finished. He knew by the way Brown moved at just 12 years old, so sudden and yet so smooth, deftly cutting on one dime after another, speeding past one … two … three … four unsuspecting defenders with ease. He knew the way those in Brown’s hometown of Stockton will tell you they’ve always known — at least since crowds started forming to see the young football phenom they once called “Mighty Mouse.”

Others who ushered Brown along the way, from the Southside Vikings all the way to USC, offer a similar explanation for how they came to believe Brown was bound for stardom. They just knew, they say — always with the same emphasis on the word.

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Solomon Byrd, a surprise USC defensive playmaker, waited years for his chance to shine

USC defensive lineman Solomon Byrd follows a play against Fresno State.
USC defensive lineman Solomon Byrd has emerged over the past two games as the breakout pass rusher the Trojans defense desperately needed.
(John McCoy / Associated Press)

Long before his moment finally arrived, Solomon Byrd was already fed up with waiting.

He was frustrated with the recruiting process. He wasn’t getting the attention he expected. A few schools, such as Fresno State and San Diego State, had shown interest but things never materialized. He thought other schools wouldn’t bother coming out to the desert, where Byrd starred at Palmdale Knight High, not a football power.

He took it personally. The summer before his senior season, Byrd came to USC for a Rising Stars camp and seethed as he compared himself to other top-billed prospects in attendance.

“I really wanted to get to the next level,” Byrd said. “These guys who had stars and whatever, I was playing better than them. But no offer for me.”

The offer Byrd wanted would come years later, leading him to USC, where he has emerged over the past two games as the breakout pass rusher the USC defense so desperately needed. After opening the season third on the depth chart — and playing just five snaps in his Trojan debut — Byrd is now tied for second in the Pac-12 with three sacks.

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USC and Lincoln Riley determined to halt Oregon State’s perfect red-zone streak

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. - SEP. 17, 2022. USC head coach Lincoln Riley directs pre-game warmups.
USC coach Lincoln Riley watches his players warm up before a win over Fresno State on Sept. 17.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Less than two minutes remained on the clock — a comfortable, four-touchdown win over Fresno State long ago secured — but as USC lined up for one final stand with its back against the end zone last Saturday, no one seemed to have told its defense.

Instead of coasting to the finish line, USC mounted one of its strongest defensive stands of the season, stopping three straight rushes inside the two-yard-line to force a turnover on downs. Afterward, Trojans coach Lincoln Riley called it his favorite sequence of the game.

“That’s what we’re about,” Riley said. “No matter who thinks the game is over, it all matters to us. If you’re going to be a champion, it’s gotta all matter. For our guys to get that stop right there at the end to close the game was as meaningful as anything that happened tonight.”

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Be wary of Willamette Valley: Three things to watch for in USC vs. Oregon State

USC quarterback Caleb Williams hands the ball off to running back Travis Dye against Stanford on Sept. 10.
(Godofredo A. Vásquez / Associated Press)

It has been five years since Alex Grinch last set out to stop a Jonathan Smith-led offense. But USC’s defensive coordinator hasn’t forgotten how his three years squaring off with Oregon State’s now-head coach went while the two were on opposite sides of the Apple Cup rivalry.

“I remember not being able to stop them,” said Grinch, who spent three seasons as Washington State’s defensive coordinator while Smith was the offensive coordinator at Washington. “You don’t forget those Saturday afternoons.”

Hopefully for USC, he has learned from his mistakes in those matchups. Grinch’s defense saw Smith’s Huskies offense rack up 131 points over their three meetings from 2015 to 2017. All three were lopsided Washington State losses.

USC’s defense showed some signs of life in the second half of last Saturday’s win over Fresno State. The Bulldogs scored only seven points after halftime, as the Trojans’ pass rush notched four second-half sacks.

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USC vs. Oregon State: Betting odds, picks, lines and predictions

Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams passes during the first half of an NCAA college football game.
USC quarterback Caleb Williams passes against Fresno State on Sept. 17.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

USC takes its No. 7 ranking into Saturday night’s Pac-12 battle of the unbeatens against Oregon State.

The Trojans, who are 3-0 both straight-up and against the spread after three convincing wins over Rice, Stanford and Fresno State, are 6½-point road favorites over Oregon State, which is also 3-0 SU & ATS after beating Boise State, Fresno State and Montana State.

The common opponent is Fresno State, which USC routed 45-17 last week while Oregon State barely held off 35-32 the week before. USC quarterback Caleb Williams threw for 284 yards and two touchdowns passes vs. Fresno State and ran for two more to dominate the game. Austin Jones and Travis Dye both rushed for more than 100 yards as the Trojans racked up 517 total yards with no turnovers. USC has also scored at least 45 points in all three of its games this season.

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