Caleb Williams on USC’s rout of Stanford: ‘We’re trying to make everybody feel our pain’

USC quarterback Caleb Williams scrambles.
USC quarterback Caleb Williams scrambles through the defense during the first quarter of a 56-10 victory over Stanford at the Coliseum on Saturday night.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

This is one parting gift Stanford won’t soon forget.

In the last Pac-12 matchup between longtime conference rivals, No. 6 USC hammered Stanford 56-10, sending the Cardinal into the ACC with its largest margin of defeat in the series since a 49-0 drubbing in 1977. With a spot in the Big Ten waiting next season, the Trojans (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12 Conference) had their best scoring night in the rivalry that started in 1905.

The Trojans kept the Cardinal (1-1, 0-1) out of the end zone until the 3:35 mark of the fourth quarter and forced three takeaways. They scored the most points in a half for a USC team since 1974 and led 49-3 at halftime, tied for the third-largest lead at the break by a Pac-12 team in a conference game.

As the superlatives piled up, head coach Lincoln Riley just shrugged.

USC running back MarShawn Lloyd left South Carolina for a chance to play in Lincoln Riley’s offense because it showcases everything he can do.

Sept. 7, 2023

“You play good and everybody thinks it’s perfect and it’s not,” said Riley, who continued to get animated with referees on the sideline in the second half. “If you play terrible, everybody thinks you can’t get one yard and you’re horrible, on either side, and it always gets blown out of proportion. We’re doing some good things. The next game’s going to be a totally different challenge. The next game after that is going to be a totally different challenge. It just resets. So I like what we’re doing, but a bigger challenge is coming.”


Quarterback Caleb Williams continued his early-season dominance. The junior threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns on 19 of 22 passing. Through three games, Williams has led 25 drives that resulted in 18 touchdowns.

“I’m going out there trying to kill,” Williams said. “That’s what we’re trying to do: We’re trying to make everybody feel our pain and play on our own terms.”

USC wide receiver Zachariah Branch dives to catch a ball while opponents are close by and teammates watch in the background.
USC wide receiver Zachariah Branch dives but comes up short of a touchdown in the first quarter against Stanford.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

On Saturday, the Heisman winner just kept making magical plays look routine. He did it on the ground, rushing 21 yards while bulldozing a Stanford defender at the goal line for USC’s opening touchdown. He did it through the air, throwing a perfect pass 65 yards that hit a sprinting Brenden Rice in stride for a 75-yard touchdown. And he did it off script, dancing in the pocket for six seconds until he scrambled to his right and fired a 19-yard touchdown strike to a crossing Dorian Singer.

Eight different players scored touchdowns for USC. Aided by a 75-yard punt return for touchdown by freshman Zachariah Branch, the Trojans were so potent in the first half that by their sixth touchdown, mascot Traveler was too tired to make the customary celebration run around the field. They still tacked on a seventh before the break as Lake McRee caught a one-yard pass from Williams with 10 seconds left in the second quarter.

“I’m going out there trying to kill. That’s what we’re trying to do: We’re trying to make everybody feel our pain and play on our own terms.”

— USC quarterback Caleb Williams


With 178 combined points against San José State, Nevada and Stanford, USC tied the second-most scored in any three-game stretch in school history, equaling the 2005 team that started the season against Hawaii, Arkansas and Oregon.

Two first-half takeaways helped the Trojans control the game early. Safety Max Williams ended Stanford’s first drive with an interception after defensive lineman Bear Alexander forced a bad pass from Stanford quarterback Ashton Daniels.

Daniels left the game early in the second quarter after he was injured on a strip sack by Solomon Byrd, who led the Trojans with two tackles for loss and one sack. The Cardinal recovered Daniels’ fumble, but Byrd’s rush end running mate Jamil Muhammad secured another takeaway on the next drive, sacking backup Justin Lamson and forcing a fumble that linebacker Tackett Curtis recovered.

The defense didn’t break until late in the fourth quarter when Lamson followed a massive block of white Stanford jerseys into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown. Despite the lopsided score with backups in for both teams, Riley wasn’t willing to concede. He challenged the call that stood upon review.

“I still don’t think he was in,” Riley said. “But we don’t want to give anybody an inch.”

Caleb Williams is expected to be the top pick in the 2024 NFL draft. But his father says a return to USC also could be in the cards for the Heisman Trophy winner.

Sept. 6, 2023