Takeaways from the USC Trojans’ win over Arizona State

Caleb Williams punctuated his post-game press conference with one final reminder. The quarterback likes to have the last word.

“5-0,” he said, rising from the table and raising his fist after USC’s 42-25 win over Arizona State Saturday at the Coliseum.

USC is 5-0 (2-0 Pac-12 Conference) for the first time since 2020 and fourth in 27 years after turning a tight game into a comfortable home win at halftime. But Trojan #6 remains unimpressed. When asked what the spotless record means for the team, tight end Malcolm Epps didn’t hesitate.

“Absolutely nothing,” he said after catching a four-yard touchdown in the win. “No problem.”

Here are three takeaways from the win:

Magic at halftime

USC coach Lincoln Riley gestures while speaking to quarterback Caleb Williams on the touchline

USC coach Lincoln Riley talks to quarterback Caleb Williams on the sidelines during the third quarter of the Trojans’ win over Arizona State Saturday at the Coliseum.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Coach Lincoln Riley admitted that USC didn’t quite have the “advantage that we’re used to playing with” in the first half. The Trojans went into halftime with a four-point lead, giving up 17 points to an offense that started Saturday’s game averaging 22.8 points.

But as is becoming a hallmark for this team, the third quarter quickly tipped the game in USC’s favor. The Trojans averaged 7.2 yards per play and grabbed the only touchdown of the quarter while holding Arizona State (1-4, 0-2) to just 14 yards and down three rushing yards during the frame.

Including Saturday’s 7-0 lead, the Trojans outsell their opponents 55-7 in the third quarter of this year’s games.

“I think Coach Riley is like Steve Kerr,” Epps said, citing the Golden State Warriors’ famous dominance in the third quarter. “It’s nothing new, he just walked in and said, ‘Hey, we’re not playing like the Trojans.’ Easy. Take the challenge, he challenges us all the time and we take the challenge and we did what we were supposed to do.”

No consolation in defense

USC defenseman Korey Foreman flushes Arizona State quarterback Emory Jones out of the pocket

USC defenseman Korey Foreman flushes Arizona State quarterback Emory Jones out of the pocket during the first quarter at the Coliseum on Saturday.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

With no takeaways to allow for explosive plays and long drives, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said he was “disappointed with how we played most of the night.”

Arizona State, the second-worst offense in the Pac-12 by yards and scoring upon game entry, ended with 331 yards, 218 of which came in the first half. The nation’s best ball-falking defense didn’t get its first takeaway until the final 33 seconds of the game when Calen Bullock collapsed for his pick.

USC didn’t fire ASU quarterback Emory Jones in the first half but did face him five times in the second half. Part of that was the extra rushers Grinch sent toward the Florida transfer because the coach said he was unhappy with USC’s zone defense, which was struggling to recreate the same passes and takeaways USC generates in every game this season Has.

Jones had a season-high 23 completed passes on 32 attempts for 243 yards and a touchdown.

Offensive Mixing

USC quarterback Caleb Williams throws down under pressure from the Arizona State defense

USC quarterback Caleb Williams throws down under pressure from the Arizona State defense Saturday at the Coliseum.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Williams proved last week’s struggles to be just a one-off bad night as he completed 27 of 37 passes for 348 yards and three touchdowns while throwing his first interception of the season. For much of the game, he also led the Trojans in rushing, not a feat the quarterback appreciates.

Williams has previously said he prefers to distribute the ball to his playmakers but will run if necessary. It was necessary on Saturday because the passport protection kept collapsing. Williams was only fired once, saving his teammates with his raunchy dual-threat ability. He shrugged off numerous sacks and finished with 52 rushing yards on eight carries with one touchdown, scoring on a quarterback sneak.

Riley gave the pass guard a lukewarm “OK” rating, citing multiple missed blitzes and missed blocks from running backs.

“Just nice how it turns out sometimes,” Riley said. “You are a good facade. We knew we would be challenged when we came in. Again, the downside is that if you’re playing poorly up front, you won’t score as many points in the number of offensive possessions you have on offense and you won’t play as efficiently.”

Some of Saturday’s absences could be attributed to personnel changes. Redshirt junior Gino Quinones started at right-back for the first time in his career in place of team captain Justin Dedich. Dedich is “a little knocked out,” Riley said, and remains under investigation. Courtland Ford also returned to left tackle rotation after missing the last two games with an ankle injury and sharing time with Bobby Haskins.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/usc/story/2022-10-02/usc-football-followup Takeaways from the USC Trojans’ win over Arizona State

Emma Bowman

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