Who among us did not expect Oregon State to be leading USC 7-3 after three quarters on Saturday night?

In a matchup of high-scoring offenses, defense reigned supreme at Reser Stadium.

Neither offense did itself many favors, though. A highly-anticipated battle between two of the Pac-12’s early-season standouts, USC’s Caleb Williams and Oregon State’s Chance Nolan — who entered the game ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in the conference in passer rating — were both off their game.

Williams started the game 11-of-27 passing but rallied the Trojans back with a game-winning touchdown with 1:13 left in the game, connecting with star wideout Jordan Addison for 21 yards for just the third time of the game.

Asked by the Pac-12 Network’s Ashley Adamson about the USC offense immediately after the game, head coach Lincoln Riley instead credited the defense.

“We’re gonna start with the defense,” he said. “The defense was unbelievable all night. They kept us in it. We were not in a good rhythm offensively. Tonight was about our defense and our special teams coming up big.”

Beavers neutralize USC offensive stars

What Oregon State did to USC on Saturday will be shown in Pac-12 film studies for the rest of the season.

The Beavers neutered the Trojans in a way that sends shivers down Lincoln Riley’s spine. Caleb Williams? Six of 18 passing to start the game. Jordan Addison? Zero catches until USC’s first drive of the second half. Mario Williams? One catch for 22 yards in the first half.

The one Trojan impact player on offense on Saturday was Travis Dye, who finished with 133 rushing yards on 19 carries and a crucial fourth-quarter touchdown that gave USC its first lead of the game. Curiously, on that scoring drive, Addison was on the sidelines.

Beavers cost themselves a major upset

Oregon State junior quarterback Chance Nolan had his moments of inconsistency last year in a 10-interception sophomore season.

This year, he’d appeared to clean up his questionable decision-making with a 171.1 QB rating in his first three games, courtesy of a 62.7% completion rate, 9.9 yards-per-attempt average, and seven touchdowns with two interceptions.

He doubled that pick total alone against a typically opportunistic USC defense, which entered the game with 10 turnovers in three games.

His second interception was just an awful play — facing pressure, Nolan threw off his back foot directly into the arms of Ceyair Wright — giving USC the ball at the Beavers’ 26-yard line. The Trojans scored seven plays later to take their first lead of the game.

But it wasn’t just Nolan who cost the Beavers.

Oregon State had four false starts in the first half and a critical two-play sequence  — with a holding penalty followed by a delay of game — that put a potentially game-tying field goal attempt from inside the 20 back to the 28-yard line.

The Grinch Who Stole Passing Games

There’s opportunistic, and then there’s the USC defense.

The Trojans must practice tip drills and interception returns all practice, because just when the Trojans have needed a lifeline, someone has been there all season long with the big play.

USC’s four interceptions of Nolan gives them 14 turnovers on the season in four games, a downright silly total that has provided the perfect salve for allowing too many big drives and too many yards.

Who cares, at this point? Let ’em march down the field. Someone’s going to be there just at the right time to save the day. That just might be defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who called one heck of a defensive game on Saturday. With the Beavers eschewing a running game that had been working to put the ball in Nolan’s hands, Grinch put his defenders in the right position to steal the game away.