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

LOS ANGELES — The grand opening of the USC Lincoln Riley era began with a new logo on his familiar visor, and a flood of fireworks from faces old and new.

USC won a game since 2008 thanks to quarterback Caleb Williams’ clinical debut and a touchdown in a 66-14 victory over Rice in the Trojans’ 66-14 season opener Saturday. highest score in years.

“We know this is just the beginning, there’s a lot to do, play better and coach better,” Riley said. “It’s a good start; not only that, there’s nothing worse than that. already.”

Even if Riley didn’t want to exaggerate the results, the game wouldn’t have been much better for him. Just after Williams and many other offensive starters dropped out, USC finished with 538 yards, 27 starts and a punt with 12:21 left in the fourth quarter.

“I think we have a lot of confidence,” said Williams, who moved from Oklahoma after Riley was hired. “And we didn’t just build that confidence to get excited about the first game.”

Williams’ debut brought the biggest expectations of all the new Trojans heading into the opener, but it’s hard to see any apparent pressure or expectations affecting him. He’s comfortable in a pocket, which allows him to take his time and complete 19 of his 22 passing attempts (the best for a USC quarterback since Matt Barkley in 2012). ), including pitching to 12 different receivers and two touchdowns to another much-touted passer. The Trojans are in trouble this offseason: Biletnikoff champ Jordan Addison.

“It’s like we’ve been throwing each other for the past year since he came here,” Williams said. “It’s easy.”

Everything seemed easy for Williams, including using his scramble to dance around Rice’s defense, rushing for 68 yards on six rushing runs. Williams, who appeared to barely break a sweat for three quarters of the game, did his best to keep playing when he sensed it was time for Riley to pull him out of the game.

“Oh, I didn’t want to come out, so I tried to play as smart as possible and go down before anyone hit me,” Williams said.[Riley] Say, ‘I know you want to stay in the game. ‘”

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

For all the attention on USC’s high-intensity offense, the surprise of this game was its defense. This team entered the season with the most questions surrounding its depth and talent, and while it started the game by allowing two long touchdowns, it blew up with four interceptions – Trojans last season There were four — including three TDs for sophomore Calen Bullock, Alabama transfer linebacker Shane Lee and senior linebacker Ralen Goforth.

“Today it became real,” defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “You can only do so much in practice, and that’s key. No one talks about practice more than I do. But at the end of the day, you have to get out on stage.”

Addison and Williams were the headliners, but many other transfers and even some new arrivals had an immediate impact. Austin Jones from Stanford had two rushing touchdowns and real freshman Lalique Brown had eight electric touches, which bodes well for the Trojans’ depth at the position.

USC doesn’t look like an offseason overhaul with more than 40 new players, at least in one game against an underdog. Instead, the Trojans continued to put it all together, scoring more points than they had in any game under former head coach Clay Helton.

“It was definitely a statement, and that’s what we wanted to do,” Addison said. “We have to show everyone that this is not just hype. We are ready to play.”

The meaning of the long-awaited opening game under the new regime hasn’t gone away with Riley or any player. With temperatures approaching 100 degrees, USC announced more than 60,000 fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which has a capacity of 78,647.

“We understand that in this city, I think it’s fair that we have to go and prove who we are as a team,” Riley said. “As a team, we’re going to do everything we can to continue to make people unbearable even the thought of not playing USC football.”

Oklahoma transfer wide receiver Mario Williams added: “It’s a new era, this SC.”

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