With ‘a lot of confidence,’ USC Trojans open Lincoln Riley era with easy win over Rice Owls

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LOS ANGELES — The grand opening of the Lincoln Riley era at USC kicked off with a new logo on its trusty visor and plenty of fireworks on the field from both new and old faces.

USC scored the most points in a game since 2008 thanks to a clinical debut from quarterback Caleb Williams and three interceptions coming back for touchdowns by the defense when the Trojans defeated Rice 66-14 in Saturday’s season opener.

“We understand that this is just the beginning and there is so much left, so much better to play, so much better to coach,” said Riley. “It’s a great start; it’s nothing more than that, nothing less than that.”

Even if Riley didn’t ramp up the result, the match couldn’t have gone much better for him. USC finished with a total of 538 yards, 27 first downs and a single punt that came with 12:21 left in the fourth quarter, just after Williams and a host of other offensive starters left.

“I think we’re very confident,” said Williams, who transferred from Oklahoma after Riley was hired. “And we didn’t just build that confidence that came out here and was excited for the first game.”

Williams’ debut brought most of the anticipation of a new Trojan coming in the opener, but it was hard to see any semblance of pressure or expectations affecting him. He was comfortable in a sack that allowed him to take his time and complete 19 of his 22 pass attempts (the best for a USC quarterback since Matt Barkley in 2012), including throws to 12 different receivers and two touchdowns to the other acclaimed transfer the Trojans have stalled this off-season: Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison.

“Since he’s here, it’s almost like we’ve thrown the last year at each other,” Williams said. “It’s been easy.”

Everything seemed easy for Williams, including using his scrambling ability to dance through Rice’s defense with a 68 rushing yards rhythm on six carries. It seemed like Williams was barely breaking three-quarters of a sweat, and when he sensed it would be time for Riley to take him out of the game, he did his best to keep playing.

“Oh, I didn’t want to come out, so I tried to play as smart as I could by going down before anyone could hit me,” Williams said. “[Riley] said, ‘I know you’re trying to stay in the game.'”

“It’s not year 1 anymore,” Riley joked in the media room.

Despite all the attention for USC’s powerful attack, the surprise of the game was the defense. The unit came into the season with the most questions about its depth and talent, and while it started the game by allowing two long drives for touchdowns, it woke up in a big way with four interceptions – the Trojans had four all through last season — including three returned for TDs by sophomore Calen Bullock, Alabama transfer linebacker Shane Lee and senior linebacker Ralen Goforth.

“It got real today,” said defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. “You can only do so much in practice, and it’s critical. No one will talk about practice more than I do. But in the end you have to get on stage.”

Addison and Williams were the headliners, but numerous other transfers and even some new freshmen made an immediate impression. Stanford’s Austin Jones had two hasty touchdowns, while real freshman Raleek Brown had eight electric touches that bode well for the depth of the Trojans in position.

For at least one game against an inferior opponent, USC didn’t look like a team overhauled in the off-season with over 40 new players. Instead, the Trojans continued to put it all together and scored more points than they had in a game under former head coach Clay Helton.

“This is definitely a statement, that’s what we wanted to do,” Addison said. “We had to show everyone that this wasn’t just hype. We’re ready to play.”

The significance of the long-awaited journey to the first game under the new regime had not escaped Riley or one of the players. As the temperature reached nearly 100 degrees, USC announced just over 60,000 fans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where the seating capacity is 78,647.

“We understand that in this city, and I think it’s fair, we have to start proving who we are as a team,” said Riley. “As a team, we’re going to do everything we can to keep working so people can’t bear the thought of not even coming to a USC football game anymore.”

Oklahoma transfer wide receiver Mario Williams added: “This is a new era, this SC.”

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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