Were the USC Trojans Exposed in Their Win Over Oregon State?

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The USC Trojans survived their stiffest test of the 2022 season. But their 17-14 win in Corvallis over Oregon State was far from pretty. And even in a game where USC’s defense answered its critics for at least one week, the Beavers might’ve exposed an unexpected flaw. 

The Trojans offensive line was dominated by a physical Beavers front. Star quarterback Caleb Williams spent most of the night running for his life. He was only sacked twice, but was hurried 11 times. The pressure clearly got to Williams, who put up his worst statistical performance of the season, albeit in a gutsy effort. And the entire offense was dragged down by the offensive line that somehow wasn’t called for a single holding penalty. 

USC scored its first points with just over five minutes left in the first half. They averaged just five yards per pass while Jordan Addison and Mario Williams combined for just four catches for 64 yards. The Trojans punted four times last Saturday after only punting five times in their three previous games combined. 

The Beavers may have found the blueprint for slowing down what was once viewed as an unstoppable Trojans offense: create havoc with a four-man rush and keep a spy on Williams once he inevitably escapes the pocket and takes his eyes off his receivers downfield. And let’s reiterate, Williams struggled mightily in this game. So much so that he might’ve lost too much ground in the Heisman Trophy race with C.J. Stroud to catch up. 

Can we call this a slump?

Williams has actually declined a bit over his last two games against tougher competition. He’s completed just 56% of his passes in his last two games for 464 yards and three touchdowns while averaging just 6.3 yards per pass attempt. That’s after he completed nearly 80% of his throws for 590 yards and six touchdowns in limited action against Rice and Stanford. 

Again, these are small sample sizes against different sets of competition. But the declines are notable, especially when you consider Williams is ranked 57th among quarterbacks by Pro Football Focus. 

The analytics also suggest USC as a team isn’t as strong as its No. 6 ranking indicates. Recently, ESPN’s Bill Connolly ranked USC 11th among the remaining undefeated teams in college football, behind programs like Penn State, Ole Miss and Minnesota.  

The question is how much this really matters as USC enters the crux of conference play. USC beat Oregon State thanks to a strong defensive performance and four Beavers turnovers. And if USC’s defense plays like that every week, its offense should put up enough points to keep racking up wins. 

But USC’s impressive defensive performance also came against Oregon State, who simply doesn’t measure up to USC from a talent perspective. However, that might be the case for every team left on USC’s schedule. Other than Utah and maybe Notre Dame, there might not be another team talented enough to exploit USC’s weaknesses.  

In a college football landscape where the last College Football Playoff spot is wide open, all that matters is the W column. An undefeated, PAC-12 champion USC has a strong case to get in the CFP. But in order for USC to get there, they must find a way to overcome the flaws that emerged in their win over Oregon State.