Caleb Williams’ first season as a college quarterback was a bit of a whirlwind. He was a backup, then thrust into a starting role, had to manage his teammate getting booed off the field because fans wanted to see him, had to lead a team, and then had to watch his head coach leave for another job.

Williams got a crash course in college football craziness, a career’s worth of experiences jammed into one season. And then on top of it, he went into the transfer portal, moved to an entirely new part of the country, and learned a new roster.

It’s easy to forget the Heisman Trophy favorite is still so young. He’s a true sophomore. He has started only seven games. Williams was brilliant as a first-year quarterback, dazzling with his dual-threat ability and hunting the explosive play. His coaches have seen him grow a little more controlled this offseason. He told reporters on Wednesday that was his biggest area of emphasis.

“Diving deeper into the offense, learning checks, learning the offense at a deeper level, making sure I’m keeping us on the field, making sure I’m not looking for the big plays every single play, and just kinda growing up,” Williams said when asked what he focused on. “It takes maturity and things like that to realize making checks and getting the ball to your playmakers, getting the ball to your best runners … and just finding ways to get the ball out of your hands.”

Among the more than 100 quarterbacks with at least 250 dropbacks last season, only eight had a bigger average depth of target than Williams. The big play was his friend. If it wasn’t there through the air, he took off and used his legs; Williams ran for 442 yards on 79 carries (5.6 ypc) with six scores.

Sometimes he’d try to force the issue with his arm, the thing that nips at young quarterbacks with the kind of arm talent Williams possesses. Particularly late in the season, Williams was hunting. In three November games, he completed just 49% of his passes with three interceptions against four touchdowns. In five October games, he completed 74% of his throws, tossed 14 touchdowns to just one interception, and averaged over 11 yards per pass attempt. That last number was nearly cut in half in November (down to 6.4).

That next step is a natural one, but it’s one the youngster needs to take upon themselves to make.

It sounds like Williams has worked at it. And it should help his on-field relationship with his head coach.

“It allows Coach (Lincoln) Riley to trust me,” Williams said. “Me and (director of football ops) Clarke Stroud were kinda making a joke about how me and Coach Riley finish each others’ sentences and it’s a bit weird sometimes.”

We’ll see if that holds true on Saturday when Williams and USC open the season against Rice at 3 p.m. PT. Maybe by the time Riley is calling for the checkdown, Williams is already making the throw.