The 10th-ranked USC Trojans (7-1, 5-1 Pac-12) outlasted the Arizona Wildcats (3-5, 1-4 Pac-12) in Tucson Saturday night, 45-37, to move to 7-1 on the season and stay in the hunt for a spot in the Pac-12 title game.

Here are three takeaways from the game

USC grinds out another win

Travis Dye got just enough of a chip on Arizona’s Jacob Manu, who came screaming off the edge looking to stuff Caleb Williams in the backfield. It was fourth-and-1 just past midfield and USC’s Lincoln Riley opted to leave his offense on the field. Manu had just hit Dye in the backfield on third-and-short to bring up a fourth and potentially give the ball back to Arizona, down eight, with a little more than 70 seconds on the clock.

Riley said, “I like my guys to close it out.” Dye chipped Manu, giving Williams just enough time to get back to the line of scrimmage. He spun off a would-be tackle and plowed ahead for a first down. An explosion of emotion then came from the USC quarterback. He said this week USC got punched in the face on Oct. 15 and was looking to return the favor to Arizona this week.

USC didn’t have star receiver Jordan Addison available. USC didn’t have star receiver Mario Williams available. USC didn’t have star linebacker Eric Gentry available. USC didn’t have veteran left guard Andrew Vorhees available. USC didn’t have Ralen Goforth or Korey Foreman available.

That’s a lot for any team to overcome. Gentry would have been useful against a pass-happy Wildcat team. The receiver absences put USC’s depth at the position at center stage. Vorhees’ absence forced a shuffle on the offensive line.

And in all of those spots where you had questions, USC had answers that reiterated its status as a very real contender in Riley’s first season.

A reconfigured offensive line opened up big holes when USC needed short gains. The Trojans were 7-for-8 running the ball in situations where 2 yards or less were needed to convert a first or a score. They were 2-for-2 on fourth down. USC averaged 7 yards a run. Dye ran for 113 yards and a score. USC put up 621 yards of offense, averaged 8 yards a play, and scored touchdowns on each of its five red zone trips.

Look, USC gave up 543 yards of offense to Arizona and gave up 37 points and got Moss’d by Wildcat receivers left and right. That defense is still very much a work in progress and we’ve learned as the season has gone on that it’ll probably ultimately limit the ceiling.

But Pac-12 Network’s Yogi Roth said it best immediately after the game: that was a culture win.

Tahj Washington and Kyle Ford stepped up at receiver. Washington had seven catches for 118 yards and two scores. Ford had 114 yards and a score on six catches. Safety Bryson Shaw, finally fully healthy this week, stepped in and supplied a tackle for loss and an interception to help the defense. Arizona didn’t record a sack.

With Williams and Dye in town, the Trojans are going to find ways. We’ve seen it all season. They have the right leaders in place, guys who understand that on a fourth-and-1 you might have to put your body on the line for a block.

Arizona’s wideouts are just shake-your-head-and-smile ridiculous

Wildcat receiver Dorian Singer is an absolute star in a room with three certified dudes. 

Jacob Cowing is among the conference leaders in yards, receptions, and touchdowns. He had seven catches for 80 yards. He’ll get his. The true freshman jump-ball threat, Tetairoa McMillan, provided another three catches for 62 yards. The Wildcats have been the kind of passing attack that won’t discriminate. You want to take one away? Fine, we’ll hit you with whatever two you aren’t scheming out of the action.

On Saturday, that was Singer.

He had 141 yards and three touchdowns on seven receptions.

He had a ridiculous one-handed grab in the first quarter.

And then he scored again.

And then he scored again, taking a massive shot in the process but holding onto the football to draw Arizona within one score.

Caleb Williams is finding a rhythm at the right time

There was so much consternation about the play of USC’s quarterback in late September, early October. Williams completed less than 50% of his passes in a 17-14 win over Oregon State and then was limited to 188 yards and a 52% completion rate in a 30-14 win over Washington State. (Notice the results in both instances. Just saying.)

But in his last two weeks, Williams seems to be hitting his stride.

In the one-point loss to Utah, Williams did just about everything right. He threw for 381 yards and five touchdowns. He put 42 points on the board and the Trojans came up one play short. On Saturday, the second-year quarterback completed 31 of his 45 passes for 411 yards and another five scores.

For the season now, Williams is averaging 8.7 yards a pass to go with 24 passing touchdowns, three rushing touchdowns, and just one interception.

UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson was getting national acclaim for a stretch there when the Bruins were hot. Oregon’s Bo Nix is a wonderful story in Eugene. And USC’s Williams just keeps plugging along.

He makes throws that only he can make, plays that only a handful of quarterbacks in America can pull off. A year ago, Williams really struggled in the month of November. His team absorbed two losses that prevented a title game appearance.

He’ll have a chance to wash away that bad taste here in Los Angeles. USC enters November with a clear path to the Pac-12 title game. As it heads into the most important part of the season, Williams looks to be rising to the occasion.