Three takeaways from USC's Homecoming win over Cal
USC quarterback Caleb Williams produced five total touchdowns to keep the offense humming and help lead the Trojans to a 41-35 win over Cal inside the L.A. Coliseum Saturday night.
With the win, the ninth-ranked Trojans moved to 8-1 on the year and 6-1 in Pac-12 play, keeping pace with UCLA and Utah in the race for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game next month. Cal, which has now lost five straight games, dropped to 3-6 on the season and 1-5 in Pac-12.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
Williams does it again
USC was missing Jordan Addison and Mario Williams once again with Cal coming to town. Without his top two receivers, Caleb Williams said, “Watch this,” and got a host of other guys involved.
The Trojan quarterback threw completions to eight different players. He connected with Terrell Bynum seven times for 68 yards. He found Tahj Washington seven times for 112 yards and a score. He found Michael Jackson III five times for 115 yards and two scores.
A week ago it was Washington and Kyle Ford stepping up. This week, Williams showed good chemistry with Jackson. He threw for 360 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for another 38 yards and a fifth score.
Cal scored 21 in the fourth quarter to make it a game after it looked like USC might run away and hide. Facing a third-and-5 from just past midfield and needing a first down to ice the game, USC kept the ball in Williams’ hands.
He picked up 15 to push USC over the finish line. That’s been the story of the season. It has been closer than most would have hoped for in moments throughout the year, but Williams’ brilliance has been enough to keep USC rolling.
A golden opportunity missed
Splitting hairs between Oregon and USC, both one-loss teams ranked inside the top 10 of the initial College Football Playoff rankings, USC has the better-looking loss. The Trojans fell by just a single point on the road to the defending Pac-12 champs. Oregon lost by 46 on the road to the defending national champs.
Oregon was already ahead of USC in perception, and Saturday probably widened that gap.
Which is going to feel like a missed opportunity for the Trojans when they look at what happened around the sport. Alabama lost its second game. Clemson got the doors blown off for its first loss. Unbeaten TCU is flirting with disaster more and more every week — it went into the fourth quarter against Texas Tech down 17-13.
It’s possible one-loss USC gets jumped by two-loss LSU after the Tigers downed Alabama. Surely Oregon remains ahead of the Trojans. Where do Clemson and Alabama land?
The CFP selection committee will look at USC’s defense and say it’s a liability.
The Trojans had a 34-14 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Cal quarterback Jack Plummer connected with Mavin Anderson for a 47-yard score to cut into that deficit, and then USC muffed the ensuing onside kick attempt to give the ball right back to the Bears.
A 3-yard touchdown pass from Plummer to Jeremiah Hunter paid off a 10-play, 52-yard drive with more points to bring the Bears within seven points. (Cal missed the PAT.)
Williams marched USC down the field for a much-needed score to go back up 14, but Cal came right back with a 12-play, 85-yard scoring drive that was capped off with a 4-yard touchdown run from Jaydn Ott and a two-point conversion to draw within just six points.
Ott finished with 120 total yards of offense and two scores. He had 50 yards on 14 rushing attempts and 70 on seven receptions. Hunter went over the century mark receiving, bringing in six of his 11 targets for 102 yards. Plummer completed 35 of his 49 pass attempts for 406 yards and three touchdowns.
USC forced a turnover and it got three sacks, but it also gave up 6.4 yards a play, didn’t stop the Bears on a single trip to the red zone (four touchdowns), and got beat far too often on third down. Plummer completed 12 of his 13 passes for 125 yards on just third down.
A win is a win, but one of the Pac-12’s Playoff hopefuls scored style points against a lesser opponent on Saturday while the other clung to a lead in the fourth.
Receiver room go crazy
USC’s receiver depth has been on full display the last two weeks. As mentioned above, Washington had his second straight 100-yard outing. Ford had a 100-yard game a week ago. Jackson nearly had as many yards on Saturday as he did all of last season (116).
With Addison and Mario Williams sidelined, USC’s receivers have really stepped up.
Jackson looks like a budding star.
In the second half, he had a 59-yard touchdown reception and a 29-yard catch on the first play of what proved to be a very crucial scoring drive. The touchdown showed off a bit of everything — vision, footwork, breakaway speed.
He took a little screen, made a man miss, and then outran the Cal defense for six points.
.@mike3jack picking up right where he left off!
— USC Football ✌️ (@uscfb) November 6, 2022
His first touchdown came just before the end of the first half to put USC up 20-7.
.@mike3jack’s 2nd touchdown of the season extends our lead before the half!
— USC Football ✌️ (@uscfb) November 6, 2022
Jackson has shown enough to continue seeing snaps even when Addison and Mario Williams return. Coach Lincoln Riley has the best kind of problem on his hands — too many weapons to try and get on the field.