No. 9 USC remains undefeated, tops Arizona in triple-OT thriller

Paolo UghettiespnOctober 8, 2023, 02:44 am ETread 4 minutes

Caleb Williams’ 2-point conversion and USC’s defensive stop seal 3OT win

Caleb Williams nailed the two-point conversion and USC made the key stoppage to put Arizona on top in 3OT 43-41.

There were a number of reasons why USC lost its first game of the season against Arizona on Saturday night — some more familiar than others: a slow start, a lukewarm offense led by a version of Caleb Williams that had more success on the field and in the air, an inconsistent Defense, questionable time management and even a failed field goal that could have given the Trojans the win in regulation but didn’t. Almost everything went wrong.

Yet somehow, in the third period of overtime, it was Williams who sprinted past a Wildcats defender with a wobbly step, giving him enough room to sneak into the end zone for the lead. Arizona couldn’t keep up, USC remained undefeated with a 43–41 win and afterward, the reigning Heisman winner felt the need to express his feelings on a particular hit topic: the Trojans’ defense.

Williams initially responded to a question directed at Riley by saying, “Without defense we wouldn’t have won that game.” “We were down 17-0. This whole defense thing, our brothers, the score wouldn’t have been 43-41 without them. To put it simply.”

Riley echoed this sentiment, noting that an interception by Jacob Covington in the first half moved the game, while Arizona’s game-winning tackle for loss on a two-point attempt sealed it.

“When you lose 17-0, you’re tested internally,” Riley said. “Your culture is tested immediately. Defense is what keeps us going.”

Williams and Riley and the rest of the team are aware of the narrative that has been confirmed by both the numbers and the eye test: USC’s defense is an issue if the Trojans want to play for a trophy at the end of the season.

On Saturday, while on the verge of an upset, that defense did enough to keep the Trojans afloat on a night where Williams could only muster 219 passing yards. Of course, the Heisman winner still found a way to make ground in the game, using his legs to make his way to the end zone three different times, including the game winner.

While many of USC’s weaknesses were on full display, Riley praised the team’s resiliency in responding.

“A lot of teams don’t win this game after going 0-17,” Riley said.

While in previous games, USC’s high-powered offense led by Williams was able to make the defense’s inconsistency almost moot, this was different. Throughout the game, the Wildcats made it difficult for Williams to find open receivers in space, but almost all of them erased his passing and scrimmaging advantages and turned him into a runner.

“The lanes kept opening up, they kept getting missed and they left me in big lanes,” said Williams, who ran for 41 yards. “I know I haven’t done a lot of running this year. I don’t really like running, to be honest, but you have to do whatever it takes to win games.”

Williams also expressed several times that the match against USC is “circled” on the opposing teams’ calendar, meaning they are obligated to play their best and cannot afford to get off to a slow start.

Riley acknowledged the need for improvement on his part, while also expressing joy at the fact that USC once again escaped a tough contest.

“My expectations are higher than anyone’s.” Riley said. “I want to score every time we have the ball. Realistically, that’s not going to happen. And you can either panic or you can get back at it. We played our best tonight either way.” Didn’t perform well, but one game for another, I wouldn’t count us out.”

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