Lincoln Riley: Pac-12 refs say ‘they messed it up.’ Takeaways from USC win at Arizona

USC receiver Kyle Ford reacts after scoring a touchdown against Arizona
USC wide receiver Kyle Ford reacts after scoring a touchdown against Arizona in the second half during an NCAA college football game on Saturday in Tucson.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

Jordan Addison, USC’s top receiver, stood on the Arizona Stadium sideline in street clothes. Close by, the receiver expected to seamlessly step into his place, Mario Williams, would never get on the field. He wore pads and a uniform but wound up a surprise late scratch because of a pregame injury tweak.

Their absences left the Trojans without any obvious answers at wideout, where their top two targets had accounted for 42.5% of the team’s receptions. But in their stead, what might’ve been a nightmare scenario ended in a Caleb Williams career-best passing night as USC beat Arizona 45-37.

Kyle Ford set his mind on a breakout before he knew Addison and Williams would be out of the lineup. Two weeks ago, soon after USC suffered its first loss of the season at Utah, Ford called Caleb Williams and told the quarterback he was going to make an impact.

“He said no more,” Williams said. “He wants to be on the field. He wants to make those catches for me, and he got his opportunity.”

Caleb Williams passed for a career-high 411 yards and five touchdowns to help offset another worrisome defensive effort by USC in a 45-37 win over Arizona.

Oct. 29, 2022


Ford made the most of it Saturday, catching six passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. After a long road back from two ACL tears, Ford described his performance as “a big happy feeling for me.”

“It’s a lot of work put in, a lot of ups and downs of what I’ve been through,” Ford said, “but at the same time, I know I can do this. It wasn’t really a surprise to me. I know I can help my team the way I did tonight going forward.”

He wasn’t the only reserve receiver to make a statement. Tahj Washington led the team with seven catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Brenden Rice caught his first touchdown at USC, with a toe-tapping score in the back of the end zone. Kyron Hudson, Michael Jackson III and Terrell Bynum all had multiple catches as well.

“They just stepped up and made some big plays, and we had to have them,” USC coach Lincoln Riley said. “When you have two of your top receivers out, you test the depth of your group. And our group responded.”


Another officiating fiasco

As the final seconds of the first half ticked away, confusion set in. The ball had yet to be spotted by officials, but the clock was incorrectly running. USC tried to hurriedly run a play as precious seconds ran down, but it was no use.

Soon, the Arizona sideline emptied. The referees conferred. They chose not to do anything — other than tell the teams it was halftime.

Riley flew into a rage. USC athletic director Mike Bohn retweeted comments about Pac-12 refs from afar. For the second week in a row, poor officiating had cost USC.

And for the second consecutive game, Riley found himself answering questions he’d rather not have to about Pac-12 officiating.

Penalty disparities during recent Texas and USC losses call into question whether officiating is slanted against teams leaving for other conferences.

Oct. 23, 2022


The coach admitted that his initial tirade “didn’t give [the refs] a lot of time for an explanation.” But Riley said he eventually got one.

“They admitted it. They messed it up,” he said. “My question was, if you messed it up, why wasn’t it, ‘Stop play and review it?’ The explanation given to me at the beginning of the third quarter was they obviously didn’t handle it properly. But anybody knows that watching it.”

Against Utah, the two roughing-the-passer penalties that cost USC dearly were at least subjective decisions made with the intent of protecting quarterbacks. Saturday’s incident was something else entirely.

Fortunately for the Trojans, it didn’t cost them this time.


Line shuffling

USC running back Travis Dye jumps over linemen and scores a touchdown against Arizona
USC running back Travis Dye jumps over linemen and scores a touchdown against Arizona on Saturday in Tucson.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

When Riley was asked last week whether Andrew Vorhees would be available Saturday after an extended absence from practice, the coach offered no suggestion that USC’s standout left guard might sit out the game.

But Vorhees emerged from the tunnel Saturday padless, leaving the Trojans to shuffle the line in a way they hadn’t this season.

Right guard Justin Dedich shifted to the left side. Right tackle Jonah Monheim moved inside to right guard. And redshirt freshman Mason Murphy stepped into the open right tackle spot, making his first start at USC.


“Mason Murphy is a talented kid, probably the most talented in our room,” Dedich said, “and we all had confidence he was going to do the job, and he did.”

He wasn’t the only one to impress in a new role. Riley praised Monheim for his versatility. “He’s been super valuable,” the coach said.

It was an impressive performance all around for an offensive line playing without one of the top guards in the nation. USC didn’t give up a sack, and it cleared the way for 210 yards on the ground and a season-high 611 yards overall.

“I was really impressed with how we performed tonight,” Dedich said.


Dime time

Knowing two of its top inside linebackers were likely to be out against one of the most pass-happy teams in the nation, USC resolved early in the week it would rely on its dime package, with six defensive backs on the field, more than usual against Arizona.

“Couple guys down at ‘backer, they need DBs to step up, we were ready,” redshirt junior safety Bryson Shaw said.

It had taken months for Shaw, a transfer from Ohio State, to reach that point. Injuries derailed his introduction at USC. “It’s been tough, of course,” he said. “I’m a competitor.’’

USC defensive backs  Calen Bullock and Max Williams jump and break up a pass intended for Arizona receiver Tetairoa McMillan
USC defensive backs Calen Bullock and Max Williams break up a pass intended for Arizona receiver Tetairoa McMillan on Saturday in Tucson.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)


But against Arizona, with an extra defensive back on the field, Shaw finally made his mark. Arizona was driving in the third quarter when the safety saw a familiar formation USC defensive coordinator Alex Grinch warned him would come his way.

When it finally did, Shaw preempted the pass, earning his first interception at USC. The pick marked a major turning point. On the next play, Williams hit Washington for a 47-yard touchdown, extending the Trojans’ lead to two scores.

It was a silver lining for a secondary that otherwise gave up 380 passing yards.