LOS ANGELES – The grand opening of the University of Southern California’s Lincoln Riley era kicked off with a new logo on his familiar brow and plenty of field fireworks from faces both new and old.
USC scored the most points in a game since 2008 thanks to a clinical debut by a quarterback Caleb Williams Three landing interceptions returned by defense as the Trojans beat Rice 66-14 on Saturday in their season opener.
“We understand that this is just the beginning and that there is a lot left, and it’s a lot better to play, and it’s better to train,” Riley said. “It’s a great start; it’s nothing more, and nothing less.”
Even if Riley didn’t want to inflate the score, the game couldn’t be much better for him. USC finished with 538 yards, 27 first touches and one throw that came with 12:21 left in the fourth quarter after Williams and a host of other novices were out.
“I think we have great confidence,” said Williams, who moved from Oklahoma after Riley’s appointment. “And we didn’t just build that confidence that we came out here excited for the first match.”
Williams’ debut brought the greatest anticipation of any New Trojan into the opening match, but it was hard to see any semblance of pressure or expectations affecting him. He was comfortable in the pocket that allowed him to take his time and complete 19 of his 22 passing attempts (best for a USC quarterback since Matt Barkley in 2012), including throws to 12 different receivers and two touchdowns to the other. Trojans retreated this season: Beletnikov winner Jordan Addison.
“Since he got here, it’s been like we’ve been dating for the past year,” Williams said. “It was easy.”
Everything seemed easy for Williams, including using his dribbling ability to dance through Rice’s defense to 68 yards streaming on six gigs. It looked as though Williams had barely sweated through three quarters, and when he felt it was time for Riley to take him out of the game, he did his best to keep playing.
“Oh, I didn’t want to go out, so I was trying to play as smart as possible by getting off before anyone hit me,” Williams said. “[Riley] He said, “I know you’re trying to stay in the game.”
“It’s not first year anymore,” Riley joked in the media room.
For all the attention on USC’s high-powered attack, the surprise of the game was its defense. Unity entered the season with most questions regarding its depth and talent, and although it started the game by allowing two long flights to land, it woke up in a big way with four interceptions – the Trojans had four seasons throughout last season – including three returned against TDs by sophomore year student Calin BullockAlabama quarterback Shen Li And the big back Raleen Goforth.
“It has become a reality today,” said Alex Grinch, defense coordinator. “You can only do so much in practice, which is crucial. No one will talk more about practice than me. But in the end, you have to get out on stage.”
Addison and Williams were up front, but plenty of other transfers and even some new starters made an immediate impact. Austin Jones from Stanford had two quick drops while he was a freshman Ralik Brown He had eight electric touches that bode well for the depth of the Trojans in position.
In at least one game against an inferior opponent, USC didn’t look like an off-season reformed team with more than 40 new players. Instead, the Trojans set out to put it all together and scored more points than they had in any game under former coach Clay Hilton.
“This is definitely a statement and that’s what we wanted to do,” Addison said. “We had to show everyone that this was not just propaganda. We are ready to play.”
Neither Riley nor any of the players has lost sight of the importance of the long-awaited journey to the first game under the new system. With temperatures hovering close to 100 degrees, USC announced just over 60,000 fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, with a capacity of 78,647.
“We understand that in this city, and I think it’s fair, we have to prove who we are as a team,” Riley said. “We will do everything we can as a team to keep working so people can’t stand the idea of not coming to a USC football game.”
Added wide transmission receiver in Oklahoma Mario Williams: “This is a new era, this is SC.”
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