Caleb Williams shines as No. 8 USC survives late Colorado comeback in 48-41 win

Caleb Williams showed the college football world how he can be the first back-to-back Heisman winner since Archie Griffin in No. 8 USC’s 48-41 win over Colorado.

Williams threw for six touchdowns as the USC offense couldn’t be slowed down by a Buffaloes defense missing both Shilo Sanders and Travis Hunter. The Trojans scored less than 150 seconds into the game on a six-play drive that covered 75 yards and went up 14-0 later in the first quarter after Willams scrambled to his left and made an impressive throw to a wide-open Tahj Washington for a 71-yard catch-and-run TD.

Less than three minutes later, the lead was 21-0 on a Williams pass to Dorian Singer and Colorado’s chances of a win were all but over until the fourth quarter when USC’s defense gave fans flashbacks to 2022. The Buffaloes scored 27 points in the second half and cut USC’s lead to a TD with 1:43 to go but failed to recover an onside kick to get a shot at a tying possession.

Williams finished the game 30-of-40 passing for 403 yards. He threw his first interception of the season in the second half with an ill-advised throw on the run that he made when trying to get too greedy with the Trojans up multiple scores.

It was a good thing USC jumped out to such a big lead. The Trojans looked to be far and away the better team in the first half as Colorado was simply outmatched. It was a different story in the second half, however. And it’s not as simple as USC letting its foot off the gas in the final 30 minutes either.

Colorado QB Shedeur Sanders was 30-of-45 passing for 371 yards and four TDs and an interception. Freshman wide receiver Omarion Miller had seven catches for 196 yards and a TD while Jimmy Horn had seven catches for 84 yards and two scores.

Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams warms up before an NCAA college football game against Colorado Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

USC QB Caleb Williams threw six touchdowns against Colorado and has thrown for 21 TDs through the first five games of the season. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Why Williams can repeat

Numerous players have had opportunities to become back-to-back Heisman winners since Griffin won in 1974 and 1975. Alabama QB Bryce Young was sixth after winning in 2021. Lamar Jackson was third in 2017 after winning the season before. Tim Tebow finished third and fifth after winning in 2007.

If Williams keeps playing like this, he should join Griffin on that lofty Heisman pedestal. He’s done nothing to show why he isn’t the best quarterback in college football and the likely No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL draft. After throwing for six scores on Saturday, Williams has thrown for 21 TDs over five games and has thrown for 1,603 yards while completing 75% of his passes.

The level Williams has sustained since taking over as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback in 2021 shouldn’t be taken for granted. While players like Washington’s Michael Penix Jr., Oregon’s Bo Nix and Texas’ Quinn Ewers have made strong Heisman cases so far, Williams is still the most dynamic offensive player in college football.

However, he’s going to need some help from his defense if USC is going to keep winning.

USC’s defense needs to get better

Williams has to look no further than Young a season ago to see how a repeat Heisman bid can be derailed. While Young missed a game in 2022 and threw for 15 fewer TDs than he did in 2021, he had a similar completion percentage and yards per attempt despite not having players like Jameson Williams and John Metchie to throw to.

Without that supporting cast to help boost his numbers even higher and a team that lost two regular-season games to miss out on the College Football Playoff, Young wasn’t invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony.

While Williams still has playmakers like Washington, Mario Williams and Brenden Rice to throw to, USC’s defense could be the one to screw up Williams’ repeat bid if it can’t figure out a way to tackle better and play well against a strong opponent.

Opponents are averaging over five yards a play against the Trojans and USC has now given up at least 28 points in three of its first five games of the season. That’s a performance against unranked opponents that simply isn’t going to cut it with games against four teams currently ranked in the top 11 of the AP Top 25 still remaining on the schedule.

If USC goes 9-3 or even 10-2 and is out of the mix for the Pac-12 title because of its defense, then Williams may have to play at an even more incredible level to give him a shot. A big game by either Penix (Nov. 4) or Nix (Nov. 11) against the USC defense could be the catalyst they need to become the Heisman frontrunner.

Colorado’s rebound

It’s hard to take moral victories from your second consecutive loss of the season and we’re not here to blow more Colorado smoke in your direction. But it’s worth noting how much fight Colorado continued to show after going down 21-0 on the heels of a 42-6 drubbing by Oregon a week ago.

It would have been easy for the Buffaloes to get defeated in the second quarter against the Trojans. Especially with its best player still sidelined. But Sanders went on to have a fantastic game and the Colorado run game showed signs of a pulse. The Buffs rushed for 193 yards after averaging just over 50 yards per game on the ground through the first four weeks.

With games against Arizona State and Stanford over the next two weeks, the Buffaloes have a great chance to be 5-2 before an off week and a trip to UCLA on Oct. 28.

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