PASADENA, Calif. — All season lengthy, USC coach Lincoln Riley has made it some extent — after a win, a loss, a apply — to say the place the staff was only a yr in the past as in contrast with the place it’s now.
Even after USC misplaced at Utah by one level in October, Riley talked about how far this system had are available in a short while. It had taken the Trojans simply 5 video games to surpass final season’s four-win complete. That night time in Salt Lake Metropolis, Riley additionally careworn one other level: Regardless of the loss, the entire Trojans’ targets would nonetheless be attainable in the event that they saved profitable.
On Saturday night time, a type of targets was achieved. A season after shedding to rival UCLA by practically 30 factors at house, USC outlasted the Bruins 48-45 in an electrical, back-and-forth thriller that punched the Trojans’ ticket to the Pac-12 championship recreation in 12 months 1 of the Riley period and saved their School Soccer Playoff hopes alive.
“Iconic sort of recreation,” Riley mentioned. “Whether or not you are a USC fan or a UCLA fan, they will not neglect nights like that.”
The primary ranked matchup between the 2 groups since 2015 delivered on practically each degree. After UCLA raced to a 14-0 benefit and led 21-20 at halftime, the sport turned a pingpong match of touchdowns within the second half. No matter quarterback Caleb Williams might do on one finish, Dorian Thompson-Robinson would reply on the opposite finish in emphatic style. Each threw interceptions — three plus a fumble for Thompson-Robinson, one for Williams — however tried to erase their errors with dazzling drives, Houdini-like scrambling and pinpoint landing tosses.
However the high-scoring affair promptly ended on a defensive play. As Thompson-Robinson drove down the sphere to attempt to tie or win the sport with lower than two minutes left, he was intercepted by sophomore Korey Foreman.
“I got here into this recreation anticipating a dogfight,” Williams mentioned. “The sport isn’t over in these massive video games.”
The groups mixed for 93 factors, 5 turnovers and greater than 1,000 yards of offense, and no participant was liable for extra of these yards and scores than Williams, who handed for a career-high 470 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 33 yards and to TD.
“He is been among the finest gamers within the nation this yr,” Riley mentioned of Williams.
As USC offensive lineman Brett Neilon added, “He is so aggressive, and he is so assured in himself, however not in a cocky means. He is simply an A-plus man.”
Earlier this week, Williams mentioned he wished to deal with the matchup with UCLA like some other recreation. There was no additional motivation or animosity towards the Bruins. However after the sport, the elation that gamers, coaches, and employees displayed spoke of one thing totally different that had been lacking at USC the previous few years: success, opponent however.
It was becoming then that Saturday’s victory celebration occurred in the identical south finish zone the place USC (10-1) final celebrated its greatest second earlier than this one: the 2017 Rose Bowl win over Penn State.
The triumph versus UCLA (8-3) affirmed that USC’s offense is likely one of the most explosive within the nation and that Williams is a Heisman Trophy contender, if not the front-runner. The Trojans’ protection has been inconsistent but additionally well timed with regards to forcing turnovers and making stops.
The sport was additionally an exhibition of USC’s confidence. Having gone down by two scores early within the contest after leaving factors on the board, there was, as Riley put it, zero flinching.
“You may’t write the script first,” Riley mentioned. “You simply acquired to be prepared to reply.”
After the disappointing defeat in Utah, Riley was virtually overly assured that USC would reply from the bottom level of its season. As his gamers rushed the sphere at recreation’s finish on Saturday, the sensation of accomplishment spanned past beating their rivals. It was additionally about the truth that, within the span of a yr, the Trojans had managed to sew a staff along with a brand new teaching employees, a bevy of transfers from totally different corners of the nation and loads of gamers who had been at USC for a number of years right into a cohesive, profitable unit able to enjoying for convention titles.
Among the many issues USC achieved Saturday was maintaining a West Coast staff within the playoff hunt. There’s nonetheless work to do — the Trojans should beat a surging Notre Dame squad subsequent week and win the Pac-12 championship — however for a convention and a area that has did not make its means into that high 4 as typically as its counterparts, Riley’s revival of USC initiatives a brighter future that’s already paying dividends.
“Considering again to what all acquired right here, the primary factor that we wished to do was come collectively,” mentioned USC linebacker Shane Lee, who transferred from Alabama. “That is why we’re right here: to play for championships and have success.”
Each Williams, who transferred from Oklahoma and continues to be getting used to carrying cardinal and gold and main the band after a win, and gamers like fifth-year senior lineman Andrew Vorhees, who has seen all of the ups and downs of the previous few years, basked within the win as they hugged teammates and high-fived USC followers who did not need to depart. Athletic director Mike Bohn embraced Riley, who then watched the celebration faraway from the gang, taking all of it in.
“School soccer on the West Coast and right here in LA is alive and properly,” Riley mentioned postgame, praising the environment of what was a sold-out crowd of greater than 70,000 on the Rose Bowl. “That is the way it ought to be each week.”