Everything Lincoln Riley, Caleb Williams said after beating Arizona State
USC quarterback Caleb Williams threw for a season-high 348 yards, ran for another 44, and produced four total touchdowns to help lead No. 6 USC to a 42-25 win over Arizona State Saturday night. It took five games under Lincoln Riley to surpass last season’s win total as the Trojans are off to their best start since 2006.
After the game, Riley met with reporters alongside Williams and linebacker Eric Gentry to break things down. Here’s everything they said.
Riley’s opening statement
“We’re really excited about the win. It’s great to be 5-0. It was a game of momentum. We had some momentum early, but we didn’t do a very good job finishing in the first half. Obviously didn’t stop them well there, and then had that huge touchdown pass called back. Had a chance to get some separation there, and it just didn’t happen. A few too many errors.
“I’m proud of the way we played in the third quarter. The offensive drives were quality. We really stopped them defensively, and we challenged the guys. We didn’t play — overall in the first half — the way we needed to in the first half. We didn’t play that attacking, relentless style that we want to play on both sides. Our offense had some really good quality drives, but it just wasn’t quite us. It wasn’t quite the edge that we’re used to playing with and that we expect to play with. I thought our guys responded well in the third quarter and made some key plays when it mattered to get away and win the game.
“A lot to improve on, no question about it. We’re going to have to build and have to play a lot better. We’ve got some really good opponents coming up, so we certainly need to improve. That’s obviously the goal. We’ll keep improving, but it’s a tremendous win. We talked to the guys a lot about winning this one for Coach (Dave) Nichol and his family. It was great to have his family here. It was just an emotional week, knowing it was coming up in the pregame, but it was great to see Jimmy, his brother, and all his family and friends that flew into town for this. We had a cool moment there in the locker room, giving them the game ball and being able to hear from Jimmy. Dave would have loved tonight, and glad we could get this win for him.”
Williams on his mindset for the game
CW: “Same mindset I always have. Sometimes things just don’t go your way. We’re still 5-0. I went through the week how I normally go through the week. Going over the game plan, watching some film, consistently studying them and our game plan and trying to help prepare myself and the guys for the week.
“Just focusing on being more consistent, and getting a few more reps. Getting some extra reps isn’t extra if you need it. We needed it obviously. We got a few more extra passes with the wide receivers, a few more reps throughout the week with the O-line, running backs, and it paid off.”
Williams on what he focused on in practice during the week
CW: “Being more consistent with my footwork, the basics. It always normally comes back to the basics. I didn’t like the way some of my footwork throughout the last game was, so I was trying to be more consistent with that. Throughout this game, I was able to be more consistent.”
Riley on Williams’ readiness to face top defenses in the league going forward
LR: “He’s ready.”
Riley and Williams on not being available to the media during the previous week
CW: “I had a few things that came up during the week. So I just had to skip it and go forth, and now I’m here.”
LR: “Turns out these guys actually have school, too.”
Gentry on the difference between the defense in the first half and the second
EG: “I would say for me personally it felt weird playing against my old team. We didn’t really have an edge, me being a MIKE linebacker, I really set the energy. In the second half, I felt way better. I felt way more confident. It’s another football game, so I just played how I usually play.”
Riley on the offensive line and Justin Dedich’s availability
LR: “We’ll keep evaluating Dedich. He’s been a little banged up for us. The hope was tonight to be able to get through tonight and be able to buy him a little bit of time, which he needs.
“Tough to say on the interior. It was a big challenge. It wasn’t ideally the… You know, if you’re gonna try and rest a guy and play a (new) guy, this was the best interior pair that we’d played against. And not by a little bit, by a lot. They’re probably the strength of the defense. There was a big challenge in there. I didn’t see any major errors by Gino during the game. Thought he did some good things. We’re gonna have to go back and evaluate but it’s awesome to be able to have somebody step in there and still play pretty efficiently. It was a low number of possession game. They obviously had a plan to slow it down, huddle a lot, use a lot of the play clock. We had to have some pretty efficient drives and we were able to do that.
Riley on Williams’ play
LR: “I thought he played well. I thought he saw the field well, made very few minimal mistakes. He did a great job in some of the scramble situations again and got us out of trouble a couple of times. His being able to evade people in the pocket the last two weeks has been really impressive. I thought he really threw the ball well tonight. The balls were on target, on the money, and gave our guys a lot of chances to make plays. He was a tremendous playmaker for us.”
Riley on anything that signaled to him Williams would have that kind of bounceback performance
LR: “He’s a good player. I had zero concerns about it. It’s like I told you, sometimes a good pitcher has a day. I’ve watched good players and if they have an off performance, the chance they have two in a row is pretty low. He prepared well and I had zero doubt he was gonna play well. And he did.”
Williams on his first interception of the year
CW: “They made a good play, but I wasn’t in sync with how they were playing or in sync with Jordan (Addison). They made a good play on the ball and that happens. It is football. Things don’t always go your way, as I said before. It was how we responded, which is what I was happy about. As a team, myself, the defense going out there and doing their thing, and then we go back out there and we go score.”
Riley on the offensive line’s performance
LR: “I thought we were okay. I thought we missed a couple of blitzes. They had a couple of free runners on us. We got beat a couple times with the backs. We got beat a couple times one-on-one. That’s just how it plays out sometimes. They’re a good front. We knew coming in that we were going to get challenged. The flip side of it is with the number of possessions that the offense had, you don’t score that many points if you aren’t playing efficiently or you’re just playing bad up front. We certainly aren’t by any stretch of the imagination playing bad. It was a good challenge. They won a few, we won a few. And when they won, he (Williams) did a good job at getting us out of it.”