Skip to main content

Grading USC's win over Arizona State: Lincoln Riley's offense gets high marks

Nine different players caught at least one pass from Caleb Williams

After scuffling against Oregon State last week, Lincoln Riley's offense returned to form in a 42-25 win over Arizona State on Saturday.

Here's a closer look at how USC's offense performed, with analysis and a grade for each of USC's offensive position groups.

Quarterback: A+

Caleb Williams was spectacular on Saturday, reminding Heisman voters why he’s considered one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. Nearly 400 yards and four more touchdowns for Williams, who completed 73% of his throws, returning to the mark he was reaching before the Oregon State game.

There’s not too much else to say of Williams’ performance, which showcased his athleticism as he scrambled to buy his receivers time, only to deliver the rock in the bread basket consistently.

“I thought he saw the field well with very minimal mistakes,” Riley said. “I thought he really threw the ball well tonight. The balls were on target, on the money, and gave our guys a lot of chances to make plays, so he was a tremendous playmaker.”

The one blemish on his record was an interception on USC’s first drive in the second half. Williams tried to loft an end zone fade to Jordan Addison, but a Sun Devil defender was able to make a play on the ball in double coverage.

Addison had just made two big plays to march USC down the field, so Williams was naturally looking to get him the ball again. Unfortunately, he just threw it too early and didn’t deliver a great ball. 

“They made a good play, but I wasn’t in sync with how they were playing or in sync with Jordan. They made a good play on the ball and that happens; it is football,” Williams said.

Also not reflected on the stat sheet was the 82-yard bomb for what would have been a Mario Williams touchdown that was called back for holding.

Receivers: B+

Nine Trojans caught passes from Williams (seven if you don’t count the running backs.) Addison led the team in targets, receptions and yards, perhaps unsurprisingly, and came up just short of the end zone in the fourth quarter, sealing his first game as a Trojan without a touchdown.

Mario Williams caught his second touchdown of the year and had an impressive run after the catch on his personal game-high 27-yard reception.

Brenden Rice got more involved than he has been this season, pulling down four balls for 52 yards, almost breaking away for a touchdown on what still ended up being a 31-yard gain. “Man I gotta break some of those for touchdowns, it’s sickening,” Rice said postgame with a smile on his face.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

Also finding the end zone were the less likely culprits Kyron Hudson and Malcolm Epps, the second of the year for the latter. Rice jokingly accused Epps of stealing his touchdown after the game, as both receivers were in the vicinity of the throw, but the big tight end came down with it for six.

Overall, a decent game for the receiving corps; they were able to find some space while Williams was running around in the backfield, and almost all of them found a way to make an impact. That said, the standards for this group are extremely high, as it’s likely the best receiving room in the country, hence the B+ rating.

Running backs: B

USC rushed for 137 net yards, with the bulk coming from Travis Dye, whose total dropped below the century mark for the first time since the season opener. Neither Dye nor the rest of the backs were able to find space in the middle of the field like they did in the last two weeks, collectively averaging just 4.6 yards per carry and 4.2 when Caleb Williams’ contributions to the ground game are removed.

Still, Dye found the end zone twice, bringing his touchdown total to five through five games as a Trojan. Side note: two fans also handed their baby down to Dye on the field after the game for the running back to take a photo with.

Austin Jones had a slow night in the backfield, picking up just six yards on two carries, although he did catch two passes for 27 yards. Jones wasn’t getting a heavy load of snaps, in part due to Raleek Brown’s presence in the backfield.

Brown received six touches which turned into 27 yards. Not a bad performance, but he wasn’t really able to break loose. There was a flash of that lightning quickness and acceleration on his game-high 12-yard carry when he shifted a Sun Devil defender out of his cleats somewhere in the second level.

Offensive Line: C+

The pass protection for the Trojans wasn’t great in this one. Technically, the line only allowed one sack, but that stat is less indicative of the big guys than it is of Williams, who put on a masterclass of quarterback escape artistry.

Also, USC wasn’t able to establish a meaningful run game, so the offense became a bit one dimensional. Still, the offense put up 42 points, but again, there’s a reason only one position group on this list received an A.

“I thought we were okay,” Riley said of his offensive line. “I thought we missed a couple of blitzes. They had a couple of free runners on us. We got beat a couple times with the backs, and then we got beat a couple times one on one. That’s just how it plays out sometimes. [Arizona State is] a good front. We knew coming in that we were going to get challenged.”

“On the flip side of that, with the number of possessions that the offense had, you don’t score that many points if you aren’t playing efficiently. We aren’t by any stretch of the imagination playing bad. It was a good challenge. They won a few, we won a few, and when they won, [Caleb] did a good job of getting us out of it.”

Also, the offensive line loses some marks for the aforementioned holding call that took Mario Williams’ 82-yard touchdown off the board.

Keep an eye on the health of Justin Dedich going forward; USC needs him back at full strength sooner rather than later with two tough games coming up before the bye week.