One pass fell short. The next sailed high. Another arrived behind the receiver. With each successive throw, it seemed Caleb Williams might not snap out of the funk that suddenly sapped him of his accuracy last Saturday in Corvallis.
Then came that final scoring drive against Oregon State — and that final, pinpoint throw for a touchdown to Jordan Addison down the sideline, and, suddenly, the struggles that came during an ugly, 16-for-36, 180-yard performance would be absolved.
Lincoln Riley dismissed any concerns about USC’s quarterback — “Some nights you don’t have your best stuff,” the coach said — as did his teammates, many of whom applauded his composure throughout last Saturday’s eventual win.
Yet as USC (4-0) welcomes Arizona State (1-2) to the Coliseum, it’s fair to wonder how Williams might bounce back after his first brush with adversity.
The quarterback didn’t offer any answers to that question this week since he didn’t meet with reporters during his usual Wednesday session. The rest of his offense, though, said plenty in his stead to soothe concerns.
“A lack of confidence has never been an issue with Caleb Williams,” left guard Andrew Vorhees said. “Never at one point during the game did he seem to be fearful or lose confidence. He was just a leader for us, and really helped the offense get going when we were struggling.”
Arizona State has had to face far more serious struggles this season. For Williams, that could make for an ideal opportunity to iron out whatever issues he had last Saturday.
Here are three things to watch for when USC faces Arizona State on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. PDT (ESPN, ESPN+):
A message for Korey Foreman
With Romello Height out for the season, Korey Foreman had a clear opportunity to seize a more significant role in USC’s edge rusher rotation last Saturday.
Instead, the former top overall recruit spent the game on the sideline. After seeing his snaps dwindle over the previous three weeks — from 34 to 28 to 21 — Foreman didn’t play a single snap in the win over Oregon State.
Asked why Foreman was benched, USC’s defensive coordinator answered bluntly: “Just practice,” Alex Grinch said.
“If you play at a high level, if you compete at a high level, and you do so with extreme effort, we’ll not only play you, but we’ll start you and we’ll champion you,” he later continued. “You can insert name in front and insert name behind, that’s the expectation. Some guys are doing it, and some guys aren’t doing it at the level we anticipate or expect them to.”
The message to Foreman was clear, even if Grinch intended his answer in a more general sense.
Did Foreman get the message? We won’t know for sure until we see the plan for USC’s edge rush rotation.
Decision coming at left tackle?
After splitting snaps evenly for the first two weeks, Bobby Haskins spent the last two games as USC’s full-time left tackle while Courtland Ford recovered from an ankle injury.
With Ford healthy this week, it’s unclear where USC might turn at left tackle. Riley said Ford was available last Saturday, if needed, but that the staff trusted Haskins to hold down the position.
“We think Courtland’s right on the edge of really getting back to being himself,” Riley said Tuesday.
Could that mean Ford returns as the full-time left tackle? Or could more splitting time be in order? Riley didn’t offer many hints about this particular rotation.
Last season, at Florida, Emory Jones was maybe the most dangerous dual-threat quarterback in the Southeastern Conference. Now, at Arizona State, at least half of that equation has been neutralized.
After rushing for 758 yards and four touchdowns in 2021, Jones has only 12 rushing yards in 32 carries this season. Jones has added three touchdowns, while nine sacks have eaten away at his rushing totals. But it’s clear Jones isn’t being used as a runner the way he used to be.
That could change Saturday against USC. The Trojans have yet to face a quarterback capable of scrambling like Jones, although practicing against Williams every day doesn’t hurt. His 36 carries this season are the most among Pac-12 quarterbacks.