USC makes playoff statement against UCLA as Caleb Williams’ career night promises best to come

On a Saturday full of career bests, Caleb Williams might have matched his. Maybe not his entire career, of course, but at least his career so far. The way things are going, who knows what’s in store for the USC quarterback and the Trojans?

The Rose Bowl might as well have been a launch pad for a lot of things on Saturday night. With Williams pitching it, directing it and leading it emotionally, USC can suddenly see a college football playoff berth from here. Some believe they even control their own destiny when it comes to the Football Four in this dizzying turnaround year that just won’t stop.

But that’s what Trojans do. They needed each of Williams’ career-best 470 yards (503 yards total) — the most by any player in rivalry history — to defeat UCLA 48-45. Those numbers will live in USC annals for years, maybe decades.

Rather, it is about what it means in the present. The Pac-12 is back, at least one factor this late in the season. It has been six years since the last Pac-12 playoff entry. If USC seals the deal, it would be two years before it migrates to the Big Ten. Who cares about affiliations at this point?

For now, the Trojans have dizzily secured a spot in the Pac-12 championship game. You can’t afford to stop by Notre Dame next Saturday. But on that trip, Williams was just a little bit better in a shootout with fellow UCLA Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

This is the same DTR that said he wanted to score 60 points against the Trojans. The same DTR who has thrown for at least four points for the fifth time in his career. Instead, the fifth-grader helped decide the game by throwing three crippling interceptions, the last with 1:26 left. Second defenseman Korey Foreman contributed the largest game his young career with choice.

“I’ll be honest: you had a lot to say this week. We blanked it out,” Williams said. “You had a lot to say tonight. We blanked it out.”

Most of the time his teammates blocked enough. The 93 combined points were the second-highest in the series behind only the 95 scored in last year’s UCLA win over USC at the end of the Trojans’ dismal 4-8 season.

That preceded the hiring of Lincoln Riley, who brought him in 20 transfers and 40 new players in a period of two months.

Which brings us here as we witness not only one of the best turnarounds in the country, but also one of the best of all time. USC is 10-1 for the first time since 2008. Backup running back Austin Jones contributed 120 rushing yards, his most in two years. Wide receiver Jordan Addison was near a career high, catching the second most receptions in a game (11 for 178 yards).

Both are transfers, of course — Jones from Stanford and Addison from Pittsburgh.

The season is coming to an end and we can’t get enough.

Did you see how TCU intentionally let the ball run with no timeouts – and time was running out – so they could get their game-winning field goal unit, Fire Drill, on the gun against Baylor? Did you see that Michigan did broadly the same thing and needed a 35-yard field goal on The Big House’s version to beat Illinois on time?

A few hours later, South Carolina QB Spencer Rattler walked out and had the game his Life. The Gamecocks pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season, wiping out Tennessee 63-38. Rattler came on with eight touchdown passes (nine interceptions) that season; He left at 14 after scoring a career-high six points against the Vols.

That helped open the door (albeit a crack) for USC, who can see a light beyond.

This is what trojans are everywhere searched, but could have one of them expected it so fast? Williams, the Oklahoma transfer, edged near the top of the Heisman Trophy talk, leading USC back from an early 14-0 deficit.

After an early interception, he led the Trojans to points on eight of the next nine drives before being USC’s only punt of the night. Williams was nearly surpassed by DTR, who led three straight touchdown drives for a total of 17 games and 215 yards in the third and fourth quarters.

It’s hard to believe that the game win came with 9 minutes to go as TCU transfer Darwin Barlow rushed for 9 yards to make it 48-38. It’s harder to believe it’s the Trojans. USC is now arguably the best one-loss team in the country. That’s because there’s only one other losing team in the country (Clemson). A third one-loss team is guaranteed on Saturday when Ohio State hosts Michigan in an undefeated Big Ten battle.

You can now see more clearly what Saturday meant. The loser of The Game could give the Trojans a place in the CFP.

Foreman ice the game with the greatest game of his career. He has already exchanged a percentage of future Pro earnings for cash at one of the most unique offers the NILE era. To date, his post-Troy career as a nation has been somewhat disappointing #1 overall recruit.

You want to know what Saturday meant? Foreman is now a legend in this rivalry. You want to know what the change of scenery meant? A year ago Williams played the shakiest game of his young career in Bedlam. The Sooners didn’t score in the second half of that game; Oklahoma State won by four. Williams was only 6 of 18 that second half.

On Saturday he threw for a career high.

And the best may be yet to come.


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