Fate sometimes reveals itself in funny ways.

On the same night No. 6 Oklahoma lost at home to Kansas State despite 330 passing yards, four touchdowns, and no picks from its starting quarterback, Dillon Gabriel, the No. 7 USC Trojans and their new head coach — former Sooners head man Lincoln Riley — survived a stunning upset bid on the road at Oregon State despite the disappearance of its Heisman-candidate quarterback.

Caleb Williams was off — probably more off than he’s ever been.

Jordan Addison was invisible — probably more invisible than he’s ever been.

The USC offense was in a funk — maybe the worst funk a Riley offense has ever been in.

But somehow the Trojans bore the brunt of a relentless Beaver defense, took blow after blow, only to emerge unscathed and undefeated at 4-0, with a trip inside the top 6 likely in the offing.

All it took was 4 interceptions and one timely 4th-down conversion that will go down as the latest iteration of The Bush Push — The Neilon Nudge.

“If everything is rolling and you’re gonna separate, that’s awesome, and obviously we’d love to have that happen every week,” Riley said. “But that’s not college football. It just doesn’t work like that all the time. How many times do you see a really good team get upset in a really tough atmosphere like tonight? Really great teams find a way no matter the circumstances.”


In a weird, stilted game like Saturday night, it make sense to start at the finish.

And what a finish it was.

With 5 minutes, 25 seconds left in the game, Oregon State got the ball back at the USC 22-yard line after the Beavers forced a Trojans punt from the 2-yard line. Oregon State scored two plays later to go up 14-10 with 4:35 left.

On the sixth play of the ensuing drive, USC found itself at its own 43-yard line, facing a 4th-and-6. Oregon State once again brought the heat despite rushing four and Williams was forced to scramble into the middle of the field. He made it to the 48-yard line, a yard short, before being stood up by two Oregon State defenders. He stood strong, however, and USC’s hulking offensive line barreled into Williams and the Beaver contingent, thrusting the ball forward for another two years.

The charge was led by center Brett Neilon, and 17 years after the Bush Push, another USC last-second burst goes down in history.

“Those are the moments,” Riley said with a smile. “That’s what it comes down to, on 4th down, you have to find a way. Leave it on the field. If you play hard every snap, you don’t have to wonder when that one play is going to come up that might change the game.”

And change the game it did, five plays later, Williams found Addison for a 21-yard touchdown, just his third catch of the game.

For Williams, it was a game-saving play, after arguably the worst start of his college career.

Williams started the game 6-of-18 for 64 yards and eventually completed just 16-of-36 passes for 180 yards and the score, after entering the game completing 74 percent of his passes.

At times, he appeared frustrated and sullen on the sidelined, but before the game-winning drive, Riley talked to his young protege and implored him to stay up.

“He was super-composed. He was ready to go after it, to put the ball in the end zone. We didn’t for one second think he was somewhere else. We knew he’d lead us.”

After three games with thrilling first half performances, Riley lamented the offensive struggles, which put the Trojans in bad positions time and time again.

“He didn’t get off to a great start,” Riley said of Williams. “We had trouble siezing momentum. Give them credit, they made some competitive plays that made things tough on us. And we had some routine things, whether it was calls, throws, catches — we didn’t do what we needed to.”

Until it mattered.

And given the way the USC defense played on Saturday, not that it mattered much.


Once again on Saturday, the Trojans had trouble stopping Oregon State’s momentum at times.

In all three games this year, there have been moments when USC’s defense shows cracks, only to have those cracks filled in by a timely turnover.

Against the Beavers and sure-handed quarterback Chance Nolan, the Trojans knew they’d head to tighten up — Nolan had only thrown two interceptions in three games, ranking third in the conference in passer rating.

Only it was the stealthy USC defense that came up big against Nolan, intercepting him four times, including on Oregon State’s final drive of the game. On 3rd-and-10 from the OSU 46-yard line with less than 45 seconds left, Nolan tried to hit Tyjon Lindsey up the middle, but the ball was tipped by USC’s Eric Gentry, right into the arms of Max Williams.

“Our defense — four turnovers, the huge stops, closing the game — you can’t say enough about our defense tonight,” Riley said. “It was a very gutsy performance from our defense.”

A gutsy performance, and a necessary one, for a team that has title aspirations that survive another week.

With Oklahoma’s loss, USC likely moves into the top-6, and both No. 4 Michigan and No. 5 Clemson also won by a touchdown or less on Saturday. The Trojans know what they’re playing for, even if they don’t play perfect football.

“These games, everyone wants to determine how they’re gonna go before the game is even played,” Riley said. “You’ve just got to go play, and some days you’re not gonna be at your best and some things are not gonna go your way. How you respond in those moments is what separates you.”