LOS ANGELES – Under the lights of the Coliseum, in the shadows of Hollywood and in front of millions of people watching television, Caleb Williams lifted his left leg to his body, threw his left arm outward in a movement stiff arm and folded his helmet tight against his right side.
Strike a pose, Caleb. Strike the laid.
If there was any doubt that the Heisman Trophy favorite would enter on Saturday, there is now no doubt.
He’s none other than a light-footed, strong-armed Washington DC kid wearing a blindfold who, in a jiffy, took this town by storm (after all, it’s Hollywood ).
Of course, sixth USC38-27 win over No. 15 our Lady, along with stunning losses from Clemson and LSU, paved the way for the Trojans to qualify for the college football playoffs. But something else happened here on the cool, foggy Los Angeles night.
A star was not born here, but a star shone here, traversing the field in a dazzling performance against one of the best defenses in the country. He escaped so many would-be sacrificers that most of us in the press gallery lost count (12, 15, 20 even?). He did it not just in the air (232 passing yards) or on the ground (three scores) but on his foot. Williams threw twice, blasting a USC 58-yarder all season long in the first half and pooping another in the second half that was downed at 10.
Yes, he can kick too!
Williams made sure to check off every part of the stat sheet, even the penalties. He was called, among other things, for offensive pass interference when, on a quarterback return attempt, he lifted his leg in the air as the ball hissed down, possibly preventing a intercepting and attracting the yellow handkerchief.
Like most Heisman greats, he also played through pain. During his leg push penalty, Williams was kicked into the you-know-what. He overcame the problem with ease, displaying an electric performance against a defense ranked 17th in the nation.
The Golden Domers came, saw, and left as another victim of what has become quite the tandem in Hollywood: Lincoln and Caleb. Coach and quarterback. Both departed from Norman, Oklahoma for the bright lights of this West Coast gem.
And now there they are, 11-1 and just one win in the Pac-12 Championship game short of qualifying for the CFP.
Less than 12 months into their tenure here, who would believe it?
“You start putting it in place as fast as you can,” Riley said of the takeover. “I can’t say, ‘Yeah, I knew it was going to happen’, but I don’t believe in putting limits on what you can achieve.”
Williams’ performance eclipsed a USC defense which, to the surprise of many, blocked Notre Dame’s rushing attack (90 yards) and, unsurprisingly at all, created two more turnovers (their number margin number of business leads in the country is now +22: 26 won and four lost).
There was some pregame motivation here, according to Riley. USC’s defense, which came in 94th nationally, was a cushion for critics.
“We were sick and tired of hearing how pounded we were going to be in the running game,” Riley said afterwards.
The defense showed strong, as did the fans, with more than 72,000 of them getting a memorable Heisman-worthy show from a 20-year-old who played a year ago in Oklahoma. Will.i.am, the rapper and songwriter, had a front-row view from the touchline as Williams made the Irish (8–4) look silly.
He threw darts at a string, miraculously escaped sacks and scored four touchdowns. Even incompletes were beautiful, like the one with seven minutes left when he fumbled three more potential sacks and, on the run, fired a missile 30 yards down the field that bounced off his receiver’s hands. Remember that Williams, while in high school, threw passes so hard in high school practices that he broke his coach’s wedding ring.
The Coliseum held its collective breath every time Williams came out of the pocket. He dashed to the left, spun to the right, dived forward, stopped in his tracks, spun. It was a stunning performance from a kid who says he sometimes has to remember his own athleticism.
He’s quick, sneaky, and has an innate ability to feel pressure. What separates him from other scramblers in the college game is that, through all the dodged tackles, his eyes are on the field, where he often finds receivers wide open.
He attributes the jamming to his own father, Carl, who stood outside the USC locker room all smiles Saturday night.
“My dad always talks about ‘Take off! Fly away!” Williams said.
Take off and run? Check. Take off and shoot a 40-yard completion? Check. Take off and win the Heisman? Ch…
Well, we are getting there. At the request of his teammates, Williams struck this pose a week in which USC began its Heisman campaign. The school released a video earlier this week, and on the jumbotron during the game, the stadium DJ led the crowd in Heisman chants.
Afterwards, Williams walked through a crowd of television cameras as he blew kisses into the crowd and rang the victory bell, clutching the ball under his arm. This one he won’t forget.
It felt like a crowning Heisman moment in what was a seesaw Colosseum. The atmosphere was electric. They roared with Williams, hanging on his every throw and every scramble.
The environment reminded Riley of his days watching Trojans as a child. Tim Tessalone, the school’s longtime former sports information director who retired last year, says it was the best atmosphere for a game since the Pete Carroll era.
“It felt like the Lakers Showtime era back then,” he says. “Lincoln is getting that vibe back.”
They love winners here, especially ones that remind them of their starry-eyed celebrities. Williams is that star, his NFL stock and NIL endorsements are skyrocketing. He is the face of a major water bottling brand and was one of the first college players to appear in national advertising.
During the season, he had 34 touchdowns for three interceptions, completed more than 65% of his passes, and averaged more than nine yards per completion. On Saturday, he was accurate (18 of 22 for 81%), efficient (QB rating of 185.4) and dynamic (he averaged 42 yards on two punts!) enough to draw praise even from the opponent.
“He has my Heisman vote,” a Notre Dame official said at the scene.
Strike a pose, Caleb. Pose.
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