Plaschke: USC’s Caleb Williams deserves to win Heisman Trophy

he danced he shot. He dodged. He defied. He defined.

During a hot moment on a chilly Saturday night in downtown Los Angeles, the city’s newest sports superstar ran across the grass of the Coliseum for what felt like an eternity, dodging desperate colossi, falling helmets and flailing arms.

Then it happened. Wow. Wow. Just as. Just as has happened before for every other great player to win college football’s greatest honor.

Caleb Williams created his Heisman moment.

Williams ran away from what appeared to be half of the Notre Dame defense late in the first half, jumping a foot short of a huge grab. Williams twisted his torso and threaded the ball 23 yards down the right touchline into Jordan Addison’s arms.

An unlikely tussle. An impossible throw. A rumbling song. A national roar.

“Heismann! Heismann!” chanted the USC student section.

Three games later, after pulling off one of his many magical fake handoffs followed by a five-yard touchdown run down the middle, Williams shared the opinion of his classmates.

Williams ran to the touchline with a 17-7 lead and stuck his hand down and leg up in the classic Heisman pose.

He’ll be holding the real thing soon. The race is over. The poll will be overwhelming. It shouldn’t even be close.

On December 10 in New York’s Times Square, Caleb Williams would become the record-breaking eighth Trojan to win the Heisman Trophy after winning it with USC’s 38-27 win over the Irish.

For the second straight weekend, Williams blew up an opponent on a national television stage after destroying UCLA with a demolition of the Irish. He ran for three touchdowns, passed for another, and completed 18 of 22 throws for 232 yards.

For the season, he rushed for 3,712 yards and 34 touchdowns with just three interceptions.

For the umpteenth time he guided the now 11-1 Trojans not only with his skill but also with that spirit and ended the game on Saturday leading the towel-waving team to the sky from the sidelines with such passion Staff had to pull him and his towel off the field again before the Trojans received a penalty.

With his gleaming white headband, scruffy beard and constant cheering, the Oklahoma sophomore move has leapt from local anonymity to celebrated fixture about as fast as one of his scrambles.

Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams is surrounded by reporters after USC's win over Notre Dame on November 26, 2022.

Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams is surrounded by members of the media after USC’s win over Notre Dame at the Coliseum.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

As recently as last month, this column was claiming that Williams wasn’t even the best college quarterback in town, as he appeared to be a step behind UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

That changed quickly. As the stakes rose, Williams’ influence increased, his comfort level eventually matched his skill level, his quarterback rating rose in each of his last four games, his inspiration spread everywhere.

“I myself tried to lead more,” Williams said. “There have been times during games and training where I’m not leading to my abilities and I’m definitely trying to pick that up again.”

As Williams left the Coliseum field after greeting the band on Saturday night, he was bumped into several children wearing his No. 13. He gave them all high fives and said, “Nice jersey.”

Nice guy. A worthy successor to the likes of Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer. Trojans fans hardly know him, but understandably already embrace him.

And as for the Heisman pose, that really wasn’t his idea, seriously…

“A couple of my teammates said do it… after I score a goal, I usually just don’t do anything, so they told me to do it,” Williams said. “They kept saying it, so I just did it in the moment.”

Surely there’s still work to be done in this suddenly exhilarating conclusion to coach Lincoln Riley’s dream debut season. The Trojans have yet to win Friday’s Pac-12 championship game in Las Vegas to qualify for the College Football Playoffs Final Four.

But one thing is clear. Although history indicates otherwise, Williams deserves the Heisman Trophy no matter what happens next.

Said receiver Tahj Washington, who convinced Williams to strike the Heisman pose, “It’s only right, it’s true.”

Running back Austin Jones said, “He’s the best player in the country.”

Addison, pantomiming a crown on William’s head on the sidelines, added: “He’s the one… he’ll be down in New York… we’ll do what we have to do this Friday, it’ll be his.” ”

In the last eight seasons of the CFP, seven of the Heisman winners have come from a playoff team, the lone exception being Louisville’s Lamar Jackson in 2016. But Williams fits the mold of that exception perfectly.

He stares with his arm and stuns with his legs. His lead took a 4-8 team and turned them into a potential national champion.

And look at its competition. There are none after Saturday.

USC quarterback Caleb Williams dodges Notre Dame defenseman Justin Ademilola in the fourth quarter on November 26, 2022.

USC quarterback Caleb Williams dodges Notre Dame defenseman Justin Ademilola in the fourth quarter.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

CJ Stroud, the Ohio State quarterback and Heisman favorite for much of the season, committed two interceptions when his buckeyes were blown out by Michigan.

Bryce Young, the defending Heisman winner from Alabama, wasn’t overwhelmingly impressive. Michigan running back Blake Corum is injured. Max Duggan, the leader of the undefeated Texas Christian, has thrown more than 500 yards fewer than Williams.

And no quarterback in the country has asserted himself under a similar spotlight with such versatility as Williams, who needed just the first drive on Saturday night to once again show his worth beyond just passing a football.

He started the game by executing two fake handoffs beautifully and throwing a 31-yard pass to Lake McRee. He executed a reverse handoff perfectly that carried Addison seven yards. He faked a pass and ran for seven yards at center to give him 323 rushing yards, a record for a USC quarterback this season. Eventually, he eluded a rusher, juke another, and hit Washington with an 11-yard pass for the game’s first touchdown.

“My dad when I was younger … we have a rule that we take what’s in front of us … and he reminds me that I’m a little bit athletic, so sometimes pull away,” Williams said. “And my dad is always talking about take off, take off, take off. Extending plays is part of football.”

On the Trojans’ third possession, Williams seemingly dodged half of the Irish defense as he completed a 12-yard pass to Mario Williams, and then, in the ensuing four-down game, unleashed a 58-yard punt.

Is there anything he can’t do?

In the third quarter, he led the Trojans to their third touchdown and into Washington hands in front of the Ireland goal line with a perfect 18-yard pass between two Notre Dame defenders.

USC quarterback Caleb Williams runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown in the second quarter on November 26, 2022.

Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown in the second quarter.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Then, on the next USC drive, the chant reappeared as Caleb Williams scrambled 20 yards around numerous gold helmets to set up a three-yard touchdown run, which he finished by putting both feet in the end zone when would he own her.

what he is doing.

At this point DJ Mal-Ski, the spirit leader of the Trojans, also joined in, leading the crowd with the “Heis-man” shouts.

USC had seven Heisman Trophy winners — yes, we’re counting the one Reggie Bush returned — plus one more, and they would top all schools in that category.

The trojans are used to size and if they decide to sell them, they can really sell them. Before the game, the scoreboard blared a Heisman advertisement for Caleb Williams, including a QR code that the narrator said could be scanned to register a Heisman fan vote. It was a nice touch, except, well, there’s no such thing as a Heisman fan vote.

Caleb Williams won’t need it. He just won it. Plaschke: USC’s Caleb Williams deserves to win Heisman Trophy

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