Everything Lincoln Riley said following USC's win over San Jose State
USC took down San Jose State on Saturday 56-28 to open the 2023 campaign with a victory.
Freshman receiver Zachariah Branch shined. Quarterback Caleb Williams dazzled. The Trojan offense put up 501 yards.
USC had just a seven-point halftime lead before pulling away in the third quarter thanks to a pair of highlight touchdowns from Branch.
After the game, Riley met with reporters to break things down. Here’s everything he said:
“Good to be 1-0. A lot to be excited about. A lot of work to do. Excited about a lot of things we saw out there tonight.
“Biggest disappointment was the end of (the first) half where we were dominating the football game and to kind of have the two series of bad football. Didn’t move it there offensively, the clock became an issue, had a pretty good punt — a solid punt — and then busting a coverage there on the last play before half was inexcusable. Finishing in those moments… When you’ve played a solid half, to give a team momentum like that was obviously very disappointing.
“I like how we responded in the third quarter, the way we played there. Got a chance to play a lot of guys tonight, which was a big focus. You saw a lot of lineup changes on both sides. Probably as aggressive as we’ve done in a first game. We felt like both kind of building for the future and then in terms of what the guys had done through fall camp, it was important to play a lot of guys tonight and we did that.
“Listen, a lot to build on. There’s some big plays on all sides of the ball. There were some huge plays on special teams. Some great plays on both sides of the ball. But certainly from a consistency standpoint, it wasn’t there.
“Credit to San Jose, it’s a good football team. Went through the whole week, didn’t get asked one question about San Jose in all the media I did. With a returning quarterback that has almost 50 starts and I think the No. 11 or 12 returning defense in the country, there was a respect factor for those guys in their locker room. … Good football team. Coach has done an awesome, awesome job with that program. Can’t say enough about him and the way those guys play.
“We’re excited to be 1-0. We’ve got a lot of work to do, which we knew was going to be the case anyway. We’ll get up in the morning and get back to attacking it and we look forward to being back in here in a week.”
On the evaluation of the defense
“Quarterback’s a good player. We called several things throughout the game. We had a spy on him a lot of times and a couple of times we got lost in there, got a little too aggressive. And a couple of times he just flat-out out-ran us. He’s a good player. That part was disappointing.
“I think the penalties and then the busted coverage before half, those are the things. You take what had the makings of being a good defensive performance, but those are the mistakes you have to correct. Those are the self-inflicted errors.
“A handful of those drives had no momentum. Those penalties came on big plays. You can’t give a good quarterback like that multiple chances.
“I liked the way some of the young guys flew around. We had some young guys that made some young guy mistakes too. That’s, again, a little bit to be expected. We’ve got to continue to grow. Excited about where it can be but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
On Zachariah Branch’s performance
“He made an impact on offense, made an impact on special teams. Thought he did a good job not trying to do too much, which guys in their first game sometimes will do. The patience, especially on the return. I mean, you saw a lot of patience there, which was key. Obviously heavily impacted the game.”
On the offensive line shuffling
“A lot of it is for positive reason. But, yeah, we’ve got some things to sort out. We think we’ve got multiple guys who are capable of being starters. This will be an interesting film to go back and look at to see how those guys did. I thought they settled in some as the game went on. We’ve got to obviously find that right combination — which we will.
“Specifically at the guard positions, it’ll be interesting. There’s gonna be a lot of competition. And there’s gonna be (competition at) not just that position but a lot of others right now going through. That’s how we want it to be. We don’t want guys feeling comfortable. We want guys pressing, knowing that they need to get better for the team and they need to get better to continue to get reps. It’ll be expected of the o-line and every other group.”
On the defense
“Here we go, everyone’s gonna write the narrative after the first game. Listen, it’s gonna be a climb.
“I like what I see out there in terms of our good plays and how our guys are flying around. Our depth that we have, we will continue to improve. The baseline for that group, the ceiling for that group is much higher than it was 12 months ago. And no matter what the score was — if this was a three-point game, if this was a 28-point game, if it was a 50-point game — there’s gonna be that climb to the next step and that’s where our focus is gonna stay.
“I love what we have in there. A lot of work to do, and we’re the right people to get it done.”