TUCSON, Ariz. – Caleb Williams was without two of his top targets and it did nothing to slow him down. Same for the rest of Southern California’s talented offense.
Williams threw for a career-high 411 yards and five touchdowns, and No. 10 USC overcame injuries to several key players to outlast Arizona 45-37 on Saturday night.
“You get to spread the ball around a little bit more and the other team can’t key on on anybody,” said Williams, who completed passes to 10 different receivers. “Those guys stepped up and I just tried to put the ball where they could make catches.”
The Trojans (7-1, 5-1 Pac-12) had an extra week to shake off their first loss of the season, an emotional 43-42 setback at No. 14 Utah.
The time off wasn’t enough for several USC players to heal. Receivers Jordan Addison and Mario Williams, left guard Andrew Vorhees and linebacker Eric Gentry were among the numerous players unable to play.
The injuries led to a few breakdowns on defense, but did little to slow the offense.
USC racked up 621 total yards and converted 11 of 17 on third down to match its best start since 2008. The Trojans have won 10 straight against Arizona.
“The number of things that didn’t go our way was a long list and I don’t know many teams that would respond like this,” USC coach Lincoln Riley said.
The Wildcats (3-5, 1-4) struggled defensively, but nearly kept up with USC offensively, finishing with 543 total yards.
Jayden de Laura threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns to Dorian Singer, the last a 5-yarder that cut USC’s lead to 45-37 with 1:26 left. USC recovered the onside kick to seal the victory.
“I thought our offense was going to do well, their offense was going to do well and we were not disappointed in that,” Arizona coach Jedd Fisch said. “We are getting better and that was a step in the right direction.”
Arizona kept it close most of the night.
Singer had a spectacular 23-yard touchdown catch from de Laura, fending off a defender to snare it one-handed, and Tyler Loop kicked two field goals.
Williams had a pair of first-half touchdown passes, but the Trojans also missed on some good scoring opportunities.
USC settled for an early field goal, had a touchdown pass called back on a holding call, which was followed by a badly missed 56-yard field goal.
More potential points were lost after reaching Arizona’s 10-yard line just before halftime. The Trojans ran up to spike the ball, but the officials started the clock before spotting it and time ran out, leaving Riley incensed.
“I probably didn’t give them a whole lot of time for an explanation and then after we talked, they admitted that they messed it up,” Riley said. “And still my question was, why wasn’t play stopped and review it?”
Williams found Tahj Washington on a 3-yard touchdown to open the third quarter, then hit him again on a 47-yard score as he was being hit to put USC up 31-16.
Arizona closed to 31-29 on de Laura’s 19-yard TD pass to Singer and Michael Wiley‘s 10-yard TD run on an option.
USC finally stretched the lead after that. Williams hit Kyle Ford on a 5-yard touchdown to open the fourth quarter and Travis Dye leaped in for a 2-yard TD run to make it 45-29.
Arizona managed to pull within eight, but came up just short of the upset.
Singer went into Saturday’s game as Arizona’s second-leading receiver. He may be its leader in spectacular catches, like the impressive TD in the first quarter.
“There are plays he makes I don’t even know what to say about, really. They’re tremendous,” Fisch said. “One-handed catch falling backwards with his left hand – there’s some things that are just cool.”
USC had a hard time shaking the Wildcats and had some breakdowns defensively with several key players out, but pulled out a tough road win to stay in the thick of the Pac-12 championship race.
Arizona was able to keep it close most of the night behind de Laura and the offense. The Wildcats’ defense, a weak spot most of the season, let the upset slip through their fingers.
USC hosts California next Saturday.
Arizona plays at No. 14 Utah next Saturday.