Week 0 is in the books, and the USC Trojans are 1-0.
It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies, but at the end of the day, the Trojans leave the Coli putting on display the potential of this team. That is what we saw tonight, and that is still what this team is, potential.
On paper, the talent is unquestioned. The history of success is unquestioned. Lincoln Riley is THE premier offensive mind in the college game. Caleb Williams is the reigning Heisman winner and doesn’t show any signs of regressing (18-25, 278 Yards, and four touchdowns). The wide receiver room is loaded. The running backs are incredibly talented. But…
The defense is still a work in progress.
The unit that plagued the USC Trojans all of 2022 showed flashes of improvement, but as noted by Lincoln Riley and players throughout the post-game press conference, inconsistency reared its ugly head, consistently.
The Spartans finished with 396 total yards on the day, 198 through the air, and 198 on the ground. While 396 yards is not ideal, and giving up 28 points may seem like far too many to an inferior team, the biggest concern that I had was some impactful moments where the defense was unable to get off the field on 3rd down.
SJSU finished 5-13 on 3rd down, so it wasn’t as if the USC Trojans were abysmal, but there were a few situations of 3rd and long, where the Spartans were able to convert and keep the drive alive. QB scrambles on 3rd and double-digits are back breakers. This will be a point of emphasis for the unit to clean up.
There was definitely a sense of improvement from the unit overall, however. Remember, there are a ton of new faces in this group and this was their first time playing together against another opponent. It is going to be a work in progress. The Dyrud Therom has been and will continue to be that four stops wins you the game. This group is certainly capable of that, and much more as they continue to grow together.
At the Backer position, Mason Cobb and Tackett Curtis demonstrated some real flashes. You can see how talented both players are, and how important both are going to be for the success of the defense. Cobb finished with six total tackles, two of those being TFL.
USC Trojans Offense Soars
On offense, let’s start with Caleb Williams. Tonight was another game of Caleb being Caleb. The smoothness. The escapability. The improvisation. He is the best quarterback in college football and he further cemented that during this game.
This was exemplified during the 2nd quarter when Williams dropped the snap from shotgun formation. He pivoted to his right, collected the ball, and with two defenders barreling down on him, calmly slung the ball 40 yards through the air to a wide-open Tajh Washington en route to a 76-yard touchdown. Caleb being Caleb.
But as phenomenal as Caleb Williams is, the star of the night was freshman wide receiver Zachariah Branch. He finished the contest with four catches, 58 yards, one receiving touchdown, a 96-yard kickoff return touchdown, and 232 all-purpose yards—an absolutely elite performance.
We have been talking throughout the offseason that Branch had a real shot to have a big impact immediately, even with how deep the WR room is. I did not think, however, that he would burst onto the scene in Week 0 and look like the best player on the field not named Caleb Williams.
The USC Trojans have the next great WR in Zachariah Branch. That is clear as daylight, even if we have only seen 60 minutes of game experience out of him.
56-28 was the final from the Coli on Saturday Night. It was a good way to start the season. A very imperfect way to start the season. And it showed us one very important thing, this team is oozing with potential.