Caleb Williams’ Heisman showcase carries USC to win over Irish

LOS ANGELES — Caleb Williams has statistically had better nights. He’s hit more touchdowns, passed more yards, and completed more passes in other competitions. But on Saturday night against a strong Notre Dame defense in prime time, Williams showed why his season’s story calls for a three-dimensional explanation.

Despite the fact that his numbers break USC records for a season, during a crucial 37-28 win over Notre Dame that kept USC in the playoff chase, Williams cemented his position as the Heisman frontrunner by showing, didn’t say.

In his biggest stage yet, the second quarterback danced, twirled, dodged and dodged everything the Irish defense threw in his path. Williams turned near sacks into explosives, downfield plays and potential disasters into highlights. The result was a stunning performance that had the Coliseum gaping at each track before fans chanted “Heisman” in unison.

“That’s what happens when you have a Heisman quarterback,” said running back Austin Jones. “I mean it was unreal.”

Williams finished the night with four touchdowns – three of them rushing – with 232 passing yards and a 97.6 QBR, his highest of the season.

At various points this season Williams has shown how effective and explosive he can be with his arm, but Saturday’s story was how heavy he can be with his legs too. Ireland’s defense ran into the backfield many times, but aside from one sack, Williams was able to stay upright and avoid errors. The former Oklahoma quarterback didn’t really throw it away either — he only had four incompletes.

Instead, he always found a way to give a receiver a chance to catch one, or put his head down and do it alone.

“I’ve obviously seen him do it a lot,” Lincoln Riley said after the game, before joking that the only decision he didn’t like was the one he made: the sack. “I think there’s just a confidence because he’s doing the right play on it a high percentage.”

The trust Riley and Williams have in one another has contributed to a dream season that will see USC have an 11-1 chance to win a conference title and secure a place in the playoffs. It’s a remarkable turnaround from a 4-8 season for the Trojans last season. Having a Heisman competitor in Williams was a crucial part of it all, but Williams has tried not to lean into the chatter. This week, however, it was inevitable.

“It’s like everyone lets everyone talk about it,” Jones said. “We don’t really talk about it, but we all know it. I mean, I’m going to talk about it now, I think he’s the best player in the country.”

Earlier this week, USC posted a video campaign online while Williams’ teammates waxed poetic about him in practice. On Saturday, USC played the pre-game video on the jumbotron and asked fans to cast the fan vote for Williams, who showed at least some appreciation of the award during the game. On his touchdown runs, Williams struck the Heisman pose not once but three times.

When asked about the pose after the game, Williams deflected and said his teammates pushed him to do it, so he did it. At one point, wide receiver Jordan Addison mimicked putting a crown on Williams’ head on the touchline.

“He’s the one, so I had to crown him myself,” Addison said. “The bigger the stage, the bigger he’ll play.”

Addison has previously mentioned how much USC’s offense practices these scrambling games in practice. The mentality every skillful player and offensive lineman has had to acquire is simple: you never know where Williams will go, but you know the game is never over once the ball is in his hands. On Saturday, every third game seemed to have a scramble. At one point during a game, Williams’ back faced the rest of his team when he was nearly tripped by a Notre Dame defender before turning the game into a 20-yard gain.

“It’s tiring,” Jones said with a smile at the scramble. “I’m like, ‘Bro, where are you going?'”

It’s not just the escape that makes Williams look easy. It’s the ensuing throw – which often has to be on the run and over his body – or the ensuing run where he turns a bad play into a great one.

“Long strokes are part of football,” Williams said. “My dad’s always talking about, ‘Take off, take off, take off.'”

It’s those instincts that have kept the rides and games alive for USC all season and are now driving them to the abyss of not just individual accolades but team success as well. Williams is more aware of this than most players on his team.

“Last year I came from a team that did parts of the season and finished pretty well,” Williams said. “But most of the guys here didn’t know what that feeling was of reaching the final part and being able to do something you’ve always dreamed of. … The time is now.”

After the game, Williams basked in the atmosphere. He did a lap around the Colosseum, signing kids’ autographs, snapping photos and greeting his father Carl in the stands, who seemed to know what everyone else realized on Saturday night: The Heisman trophy is within William’s reach.

Williams’ ending regular-season tally is 3,712 passing yards and 44 total touchdowns with just three interceptions. But whatever highlight role they play during the Heisman ceremony in New York City will do more to solidify his case for the sport’s top individual honor than any combination of numbers can.

https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/35119272/caleb-williams-heisman-showcase-carries-usc-win-irish Caleb Williams’ Heisman showcase carries USC to win over Irish

Emma Bowman

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