USC’s Caleb Williams has Heisman second in dominant victory over Notre Dame

USC quarterback Caleb Williams threw for 232 yards and a touchdown while also running for three scores against Notre Dame on November 26, 2022 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

LOS ANGELES — After Caleb Williams’ final magic act, a dazzling display of back-kick improv that turned a certain sack into a grand pass game, the awestruck crowd at USC showed its appreciation for the Trojans’ quarterback.

“Heisman! heisman! Heisman!” chanted a group of fans.

Williams solidified his lead in the race for college football’s most coveted individual award on Saturday night by leading No. 6 USC to a 38-27 victory over rival No. 15 Notre Dame. The Heisman frontrunner did everything but direct the marching band or sing the national anthem as the Trojans improved to 11-1 and strengthened their cause to make the College Football Playoff for the first time.

It started with Williams’ rare blend of arm talent, pocket awareness and the ability to play with his feet. He hit 18 of 22 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown, many of his longest completions coming on plays where Notre Dame’s pass rushers seemed to have a hold on him, only for him to bob, weave and slip.

Williams also cut Notre Dame’s overmatched defense by rushing for three touchdowns. With USC leading 10-7 late in the second quarter, Williams had a choice to run back Austin Jones or keep the ball himself. The Irish defense swarmed to Jones, so Williams pulled the ball back and ran untouched down the middle for a six-yard touchdown.

Then, on USC’s opening drive of the second half, Williams extended his team’s lead to 24-7 by doing the exact opposite. Notre Dame’s defense had to respect its keeper so much that a handoff to Raleek Brown in the traffic jam basically went uncovered.

As if those heroics weren’t enough, USC coach Lincoln Riley allowed Williams to showcase some lesser-known talents. The Trojans lined up like they were going for it on fourth and eighth in the second quarter, but Williams instead unleashed a 58-yard pooch punt, USC’s longest punt of the season to date. Williams punted again in a similar situation midway through the fourth quarter, pushing Notre Dame back on its own 10-yard line.

Riley also got a little too cute when he tried to make a touchdown catch for his quarterback. USC freshman coach called for a double reverse pass from receiver Mario Williams, but Notre Dame’s defense sniffed it out and Williams pulled an offensive pass interference penalty to break up a potential interception in the end zone.

Williams’ flurry of Heisman-worthy moments kept USC in a strong position to make the College Football Playoff. The Trojans would finish the season with a conference championship and back-to-back-to-back major wins if they can follow up wins over UCLA and Notre Dame with a Pac-12 title game victory.

If Georgia, Michigan and TCU go undefeated by winning their respective conference title games, USC’s playoff fate could hinge on whether the CFP selection committee favors their resumes over Ohio State’s one-loss or a two-loss SEC power. The committee ranked USC sixth behind the Buckeyes and LSU with two losses in last week’s rankings, but that was before both teams lost on Saturday.

Ohio State is no longer undefeated after Michigan came to Columbus and pulled away late for a 45-23 win. LSU completely fell out of playoff contention as sub-.500 Texas A&M pulled off a 38-23 upset. It can only reinforce USC’s claim that the only blemish this season was just one point, a 43-42 mid-October loss in Utah.

Notre Dame’s last hope of giving USC its second loss died when the Irish trailed 10 and five minutes in the fourth quarter. Calen Bullock stepped in front of a Drew Pyne pass and snagged his fifth interception, sending a nearly sold-out Coliseum crowd into a frenzy.

From there, Williams added another Heisman moment. On fourth and second, he faked a handoff and held the ball himself for a 16-yard touchdown run. Receivers Tahj Washington and Jordan Addison punctuate the moment by approaching Williams and pantomime placing a crown on his head.

Indeed, little doubt remains as to who is college football’s best individual player. After another breathtaking night, it seems time to crown Caleb Williams.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *