USC QB & Heisman Winner Caleb Williams was sacked six times in loss to Notre Dame
(Credit: Jevone Moore)

Watching the Trojans lose to the Fighting Irish on Saturday 48-20 was hard. USC quarterback Caleb Williams threw three interceptions, each leading to a touchdown for the Irish. To the astonishment of college football fans, Notre Dame led 24-6 at halftime. Williams finished the night with 199 yards passing, 23-of-37 passes and one touchdown. The Trojans lost for the fifth consecutive time at Notre Dame Stadium.

It was the Men of Troy’s first 2023-24 season loss and the play of Heisman winner Williams left Trojan fans shaking their heads. Consider these facts: Williams had thrown 22 touchdowns and only one interception this season, and last season, he threw five total picks, so three interceptions in one game is unheard of for one of the best collegiate players.

The Irish defense was relentless in their pursuit of Williams. Irish head coach Marcus Freeman told his team that Williams was “one of the best college football players he had ever seen.”

“All I kept telling our guys was, we have a plan, and on this play, you have to attack. You cannot play passively. You cannot play a three-man rush and let him go out there and be the Heisman Trophy winner he is.”

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Receiver Brenden Rice scored on a seven-yard TD pass from QB Williams
(Credit: Jevone Moore)

Irish safety Xavier Watts intercepted Williams twice and returned a fumble for a touchdown. Watts talked about his “anger” from his teams’ previous losses and wanting to dominate USC.

“We were coming off a loss to Louisville,” Watts said. “I was kind of angry from that. This was a big rivalry game. I just wanted to come out and dominate.”

USC got on the board at 01:13 in the first quarter with a 25-yard Denis Lynch field goal, the score 3-7. The second quarter belonged entirely to the Irish. Lynch would kick a 48-yard field goal at the end of the quarter. The Irish would lead at the half, 24-6.

In the third quarter, MarShawn Lloyd would score on a 31-yard run, and a Lynch extra point was good. The Irish continued to lead, 24-13. With 9:04 left in the fourth quarter, it seemed that maybe Williams would bring the Trojans within striking distance with his seven-yard TD pass to receiver Brenden Rice,  31-20. But it was not to be as running back Jadarian Price returned the kickoff for 99 yards, scoring a game-breaking Irish TD.

Notre Dame Head Coach Marcus Freeman led the Fighting Irish to victory over the Trojans, their fifth consecutive win at Notre Dame Stadium
(Credit: Jevone Moore)

For Williams, the odds-on favorite to repeat as Heisman winner, the loss was a shock and one that no one expected. The USC offensive line struggled all night. Notre Dame owned the line of scrimmage, and the OL allowed six sacks of Williams.

“I made mistakes tonight that I usually don’t make,” Williams said during the postgame. “I’ve been in college for three years now and don’t think I’ve ever had a season or game or anything like that.”

Trojans fans everywhere shared his despair. The Trojans were a favorite entering the game, ‘unbeaten, and ranked No. 10 in the country. The Fighting Irish, ranked No. 21, were coming off a tough loss against Louisville, 33-20. And many Irish fans were questioning if Notre Dame needed a new coach. Irish head coach Marcus Freeman doesn’t have to worry, and Trojan head coach Lincoln Riley must quickly help the team mourn the loss and get back on the field for several tough upcoming Pac-12 matchups.

Head coach Riley said he was “incredibly disappointed” by the result but that the team was not defeated or demoralized. Well, that’s good news, as the Trojans have little time to sulk as they face Utah this weekend, then Oregon, Washington, and UCLA follow. USC remains alive in Pac-12 play as they remain undefeated in the conference.

Games like this happen in careers,” Williams said. “You got to get through it. You got to keep fighting; you got to be a leader. It starts with the head of the snake, and I’ll be better.”