All USC needed was one last stop on its defense to evade Corvallis for the final time.
On any other night, that might have been a scary thought. In three games, the Trojans’ defense had looked primed for potential disaster. It seemed a matter of time before his mistakes cost USC a game.
But on Sunday, with his previously prolific attack stutter, a suddenly stingy USC defense was all that kept USC alive. Again and again it made critical stops – or forced critical turnovers – and flipped the script at the most critical juncture of its season.
“Football does it that way,” said defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. “There is no scenario where every game goes in one direction and we can play well, win and move on. These opponents will not allow that.”
Grinch will take on any scenario in which his defense led the nation in forced turnovers (14) and turnover margin in the first month of the season. For the third time in four weeks, the Trojans finished with four takeaways, the last of which came in the last few seconds, just when they needed it most.
Eric Gentry had already snagged a pick of his own when the 6-6 USC linebacker reached out his long arms to knock down a pass from Oregon State quarterback Chance Nolan. USC safety Max Williams came down with the interception, the 11th for defense in four games.
“The defense took a step in the right direction tonight,” Williams said.
It wasn’t just fueled by takeaways, either. USC grounded Oregon State to under five yards per carry as its defensive front put together one of its better performances.
“The four turnovers, the big stops, the closing of the game, you can’t say enough about how we played defensively,” said coach Lincoln Riley. “You just can’t.”
What else is there to say about USC’s narrow 17-14 win over Oregon State? Here are more food stalls from Saturday’s game:
The timing had to be absolutely perfect. And nothing about Caleb Williams’ performance up to this point could be characterized as such.
But with just over a minute left and USC on the ropes, Williams delivered one of his best shots of the season just in time.
Jordan Addison had been largely neutralized with just two catches for 21 yards up to that point, but as he watched the defense in cover-two and the cornerback jump an under route across from him, the Trojans’ top wideout knew it the ball could come to him.
He tried to keep his composure, to delay security assistance even for a fraction of a second. It was just long enough as the ball just slipped past and hit Addison square in the chest for a 21-yard touchdown. It was Addison’s sixth touchdown this season — and easily his most critical.
“That was a really tough shot,” Addison said. “I like the timing, as soon as I turned my head the ball was already in the air.”
When he scored the deciding score, Addison waved to the Oregon State crowd.
“It’s time to go home,” he said. “Pack it up.”
The Neilon nudge
Faced with a fourth deficit dying to keep USC’s final scoring drive alive, Williams would need a little nudge. Literally.
As Williams took off, shot through traffic, and tiptoed for a first down, the quarterback ran right on the sticks into a wall of Oregon State defenders. For a moment it seemed like he could be stopped.
Then center Brett Neilon came into play, followed shortly by the rest of the USC offensive line. The push was just enough to get Williams past the first-down mark — and to draw some comparisons to a more infamous push from the past.
For Riley, it was a pivotal moment for a team that had to do whatever it took to escape late.
“That was great,” Riley said. “Those are the moments. That’s what it comes down to, fourth you have to find a way and you leave everything on the field.”
bring the noise
One half of Reser Stadium remained under construction Saturday, a jumble of metal beams and concrete slabs that confined the bright orange swath of Oregon State fans to just one side of the field. It wasn’t the most picturesque final visit to the stadium for USC. But the fans who grabbed that one side made such an impact that they eventually rocked USC and its offense.
Riley ended up wasting all three of his first-half timeouts as the offense was unable to communicate efficiently amid the cacophony of screaming Beaver fans and the ever-present sound of chainsaws in each successive third down.
“The noise was a factor,” Riley said. “I don’t know if we were expecting to come into a stadium that was only half available and it would be like that.”
Running back Travis Dye, who has played twice with Oregon at Corvallis, said he thinks it’s “one of the most rowdy crowds Oregon State has ever come up with.”
https://www.latimes.com/sports/usc/story/2022-09-25/usc-oregon-state-takeaways Takeaways from USC’s narrow win over Oregon State