PALO ALTO — Two games into Lincoln Riley’s tenure at USC, and you can already feel secure in making at least one conclusion: The head coach’s offense is as good as advertised.
Yes, it’s two games, but let’s consider the evidence that the 10th-ranked Trojans put on display in a 41-28 win over Stanford on Saturday evening.
You could go with the eye test. The four-play, 33-yard opening drive that ended with a Lake McRee touchdown was seamless, but largely produced by Max Williams’ interception.
So how about the 75-yard touchdown pass from Caleb Williams to Jordan Addison? It was a bullet of pass that caught the streaking receiver perfectly in stride as he broke a tackle from the lone defender anywhere near the play.
In his first two receptions, Addison had 97 yards and two touchdowns. He went on to finish with seven catches for 172 yards.
Prefer the run game? Then take the 27-yard touchdown run by Travis Dye, who could have bear crawled into the end zone with the size of the hole created by Justin Dedich and Jonah Monheim.
Want some hard numbers to back up your eyes? USC had plenty of those, too.
It wasn’t until the 0:52 mark of the second quarter that the Trojans faced a third down. Prior to that, USC scored five touchdowns on five drives without ever failing to move the chains in the first two downs.
And with those five touchdowns, Williams extended his streak to 11 drives leading to a score to start his career as a Trojan: 10 TDs, one field goal as time ran out at the end of the second quarter against Rice.
And again, it was only conservative play calling and a short clock that led that streak to end as the first half ended against Stanford.
Williams has been simply masterful in his first two games as a Trojan. In front of a Stanford Stadium crowd that leaned more toward the USC side, he completed eight of his first 10 attempts for 200 yards and four touchdowns.
He finished the game 20 of 27 for 341 yards and no interceptions, never putting the ball in a position to be taken away.
USC spent the off-season assembling an All-Star team of transfers, but as we’ve seen in the past several seasons talent means little without a coaching staff that knows how to utilize it.
But Riley’s fingerprints were all over this game. From the brilliant screen play drawn up for Addison’s first touchdown to his decision to reward Mario Williams after a deft 43-yard reception with a touchdown pass on the next play, Riley kept pushing all the right buttons as he read his play sheet beneath his white visor.
There was some stalling in the second half. USC gained just 141 yards and went 1-for-6 on third down.
But it felt more like a case of the Trojans getting lackadaisical with a three-touchdown halftime lead than Stanford stumping USC with halftime adjustments.
So yes, it’s two games, a small sample size, but there’s reason for confidence that the USC offense can overcome any defense it is scheduled to face this season.
Which is good news, because there may come a game when the USC offense has to overcome its own defense.
The Trojans again helped their cause by forcing four turnovers for the second consecutive game.
Two of those turnovers — a Max Williams strip and a Mekhi Blackmon interception — came in the red zone and erased drives in which Stanford had easily moved the ball down the field.
The Cardinal relied on slow mesh handoffs to confuse the USC defense, which also was frequently overwhelmed by the oncoming Stanford offensive line. Six of USC’s penalties were committed by its defense, with back-to-back pass interferences allowing the Cardinal to cut the lead to 13 with 5:01 to play.
USC was given a short field after a failed onside kick by Stanford, but after a first down was forced to punt. But it burned enough clock to put to bed any hope of a Stanford comeback.