PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Caleb Williams bolstered Southern California’s push for a possible spot in the College Football Playoff with the biggest game of his career against the Trojans’ archrival.
He also might have to book a trip to New York next month as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Williams had 503 yards of total offense and accounted for three touchdowns, and the seventh-ranked Trojans beat No. 16 UCLA 48-45 on Saturday night to reach the Pac-12 championship game.
“If you told me last year where we’d be now, I’d call you a dead liar,” wide receiver Kyle Ford said.
The Trojans (10-1, 8-1) got their first win of the season over a ranked team. They will wait to see who their opponent will be on Dec. 2 in Las Vegas for the conference crown.
“It’s obviously very, very meaningful,” USC coach Lincoln Riley said. “With all that was riding on it on top of that, it was a clutch performance by our football team to get it done.”
Williams completed 32 of 43 passes for 470 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. The sophomore also rushed for 33 yards and a score. It was the second-most passing yards by a USC quarterback in 92 editions of the Crosstown Showdown.
“I’ve played in like two other games that are rivalries, and I went into this game expecting the same thing. You’ve got to do your job, and do your job at a high level and keep playing, keep swinging,” Riley said.
In the first matchup where both LA schools were led by a Black quarterback, Williams outdueled UCLA counterpart Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
The fifth-year senior accounted for all six Bruins’ touchdowns and 384 yards of total offense, but also had four turnovers (three interceptions, one fumble) that the Trojans converted into 10 points.
“Obviously, I feel disappointment, a lot of it on myself,” Thompson-Robinson said. “At the quarterback position, can’t have (four) turnovers and win the game, it’s just not acceptable.”
The Trojans had a season-high 648 yards of total offense. Williams completed passes to nine players, but his favorite target was Jordan Addison, who had 11 receptions for 178 yards and a touchdown.
Williams’ performance was the latest in a string of great games that has vaulted him into Heisman Trophy consideration. In his last five games, Williams has 2,027 yards of total offense and has accounted for 23 touchdowns.
“We played against as good a quarterback as I’ve faced in my college career, watching what Caleb did tonight, so I would give Caleb a lot of credit and say he’s a heck of a quarterback,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said.
USC fell behind 14-0 before rallying. The Trojans scored on eight of nine drives, including five straight, after coming up empty on their first three possessions.
UCLA (8-3, 5-3) got the ball with 2:21 remaining after forcing USC to punt with a chance to win or force overtime. The Bruins got to midfield but their hopes of a comeback evaporated when Thompson-Robinson was picked off by Korey Foreman at midfield with 1:26 remaining.
Thompson-Robinson was 23 of 38 for 309 yards and passed for four touchdowns. He also rushed for 75 yards and two scores.
After Jones’ 8-yard run brought the Trojans within 21-17, UCLA got the ball and was looking to get one last score before halftime — along with getting the ball at the start of the second half.
Things didn’t go according to plan.
Thompson-Robinson was picked off twice over the final 1:42 of the first half. USC was able to convert on the second interception as Denis Lynch connected from 49 yards to get the Trojans within 21-20 at halftime.
Nicholas Barr-Mira’s 46-yard field goal on the opening drive of the second half extended the Bruins’ lead to four before Williams connected with Addison for a 35-yard TD to put the Trojans on top 27-24.
USC’s defense came up with its third turnover midway through the third quarter when Tyrone Taleni sacked Thompson-Robinson and forced a fumble, which was recovered by Latrell McCutchin at the UCLA 9. Two plays later, Jones scored up the middle from 2 yards to extend the Trojans’ lead to double digits.
USC: There were some concerns after Travis Dye’s season-ending injury last week that the Trojans would struggle in the running game. But Austin Jones picked up the slack with a season-high 120 yards and two TDs.
UCLA: The Bruins’ defense has had issues the past two weeks, especially with stopping an opponent’s passing game. It allowed four completions of at least 35 yards.
The Trojans could make a bid for the top five after this win, while the Bruins will try to hang on to being ranked.
USC: Hosts No. 18 Notre Dame next Saturday.
UCLA: Travels to California on Friday.