There’s just something different about USC-Notre Dame. Put that game at the end of the year with real stakes on the line and you’ll get some magic.

USC has been playing with magic all year. Caleb Williams is a magician. A maestro with the football in his hands, a quarterback who can extend plays and craft highlights from sure disasters, a guy who feels impossible to bring down regardless of whether he’s in the phonebooth or in the open field.

Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman is the latest to have the unenviable task of trying to figure out how to slow the Heisman hopeful. The Fighting Irish and the Trojans battle on Saturday (4:30 p.m. PT) at the L.A. Coliseum as one side will look to keep its College Football Playoff dreams alive and the other looks for a sixth straight win and a ninth in 10 games.

Williams’ potential to influence the contest looms large.

“We’ve faced some really good quarterbacks this season and he’s one of the best I’ve seen,” Freeman said at his media availability this week. His arm strength is one thing. His decision-making is another. His ability to extend plays… he’s one of the few guys I’ve seen just continuously break tackles. Yeah, he can make people miss, but he breaks tackles. Guys have their hands on him and he continues to stay up. That can be devastating to a defense. That can make you try to do something outside of what your responsibility is on defense. ‘I want to make a play and I’m going try to rush around this guy instead of staying in my lane.’

“You have to stay in the rush lanes, but you can’t play cautious. That’s always the challenge. I remember having a conversation with D-Line coach (Al) Washington early in the North Carolina game after that first series when (UNC’s Drake) Maye was scrambling around. We’re not playing spy, I don’t want to just play patty cake and spy the guy. I want to rush, but we have to be in our lanes.”

Freeman lauded USC coach Lincoln Riley for his ability to mix and match tempos, run the ball when most Air Raid attacks live and die by the pass game, and get his playmakers into positions to be dangerous. But it starts and stops with Williams.

“Every offense I believe starts with the quarterback and the decision-making, his ability to extend plays and put the ball where it needs to go,” Freeman said.

And Williams — who ranks fifth nationally in QBR, second in expected points added, and is tied for the FBS lead with 40 total touchdowns — does what he’s supposed to do better than just about anyone.

“We have to cover those wideouts and continue to mix up the coverages we play against them. But No. 2 is to continue to do your job, stay in your rush lanes, if you have an opportunity to bring him down, bring him down — bring your feet and don’t dive. Don’t play spy. I like to use the term, ‘controlled aggression.’”

Williams is the first USC quarterback in program history with multiple rushing scores in multiple games in a single season. His 316 rushing yards this year are the most by a USC QB since Troy Winslow had 319 in 1965.

On the year, Williams has produced 3,796 yards of total offense to go with 40 total touchdowns. Trying to slow him down has been a challenge just about everyone has failed at. We’ll see how Notre Dame fares on Saturday.