Notre Dame vs. USC score, takeaways: No. 6 Trojans cruise as Caleb Williams steals Heisman spotlight

On a day when highly ranked teams such as No. 2 Ohio State and No. 8 Clemson suffered upset losses on their home fields, No. 6 USC avoided a similar fate and kept its College Football Playoff hopes alive with an 38-27 win over No. 15 Notre Dame. Caleb Williams keyed the Trojans' win with a performance featuring several highlight plays and four total touchdowns as the sophomore quarterback made his case for the Heisman Trophy against a quality Fighting Irish defense.

Senior running back Austin Jones also did plenty to contribute as he surpassed the 100-yard mark in his second game as the Trojans' featured back following a season-ending injury to star back Travis Dye. Defensively, the Trojans gave up some big plays in the passing game but bottled up Notre Dame's strong rushing attack and came up with some clutch plays.

The Fighting Irish forced a punt and took possession down just 31-21 with 6:03 remaining, but USC defensive back Calen Bullock jumped in front of a Drew Pyne pass intended for star Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer and pulled down an interception with 4:56 remaining. Facing a fourth-and-2 on the subsequent possession, Williams kept the football for a 16-yard touchdown run to clinch the game.

USC now enters next week's Pac-12 Championship Game with an 11-1 record under first-year coach Lincoln Riley. Notre Dame, meanwhile, ends its first regular season under coach Marcus Freeman at 8-4.

Caleb Williams steals the show

A quick glance at the box score is an ineffective way to assess Williams' performance against the Fighting Irish. His 232 yards passing marked his third-lowest passing output of the season, but that number fails to tell the story of how he controlled the game. On a second-and-13 play late in the third quarter, Williams ran backwards, evaded numerous defenders and somehow turned a would-be sack into a 19-yard gain that moved the Trojans into Notre Dame territory.

A few plays later, he avoided another sack and taunted Notre Dame's defense on his way into the end zone on a 3-yard touchdown that put USC ahead 31-14 early in the fourth quarter. Time and time again, the Oklahoma transfer evaded potential sacks to buy time for his receivers to get open. Though his numbers from the game won't jump off the page, part of that was because USC had just nine possessions ... well, eight if you don't count the Trojans' last possession when it kneeled the football. 

On those eight true possessions, the Trojans scored six times with five touchdowns and just one field goal. They only punted once the entire game. And when they did, it was actually Williams who handled it. With USC lined up in the shotgun while facing a fourth-and-8 in its own territory, Williams punted the ball 58 yards for a touchback.

Two pivotal plays

While many of the highlights from this game will focus on Williams, and rightfully so, two plays in particular stood out above the rest in determining the game's outcome. The first came early in the second quarter with Notre Dame trailing 10-0 but on a drive into USC territory. Faced with a fourth-and-1 at the Trojans' 27-yard line, Freeman opted to go for it, but the USC defense got a nice surge and stuffed ball-carrier Mitchell Evans before he could reach the sticks. Had the Fighting Irish scored a touchdown on the possession, or even a field goal, it would have given the first half a different flavor.

The second game-altering play came on the opening possession of the third quarter with Notre Dame driving the football deep into USC territory while trailing 17-7. The Irish had covered 49 yards on the series when disaster struck in the form of a Drew Pyne fumble. Ralen Goforth fell on it for the Trojans at the USC 26-yard line. Less than three minutes later, USC completed a touchdown drive to make it 24-7. Just minutes earlier, Notre Dame was on track to make it a one-possession game. But all of the sudden, it became a three-possession game because of the swing caused by the fumble. 

CFP implications

With No. 2 Ohio State and No. 5 LSU both losing on Saturday, the Trojans will rise from No. 6 in the new CFP Rankings on Tuesday night. The question is how high. With another victory over a ranked foe under its belt, USC has a case to jump to No. 4 in the rankings ahead of Ohio State. Unlike the Trojans, the Buckeyes will not be playing for a conference title next week after they were destroyed 45-23 at home against No. 3 Michigan.

But advocates of Ohio State will argue that the Buckeyes should not be penalized too severely for suffering a loss against the No. 3 Wolverines. With a nonconference victory over Notre Dame and an 11-1 record, the Buckeyes have a similar resume to the Trojans at this point. The true separation could come next week if the Trojans are able to win the Pac-12 Championship Game. If USC gets in to the CFP, it would be the first time since the 2016 season that a Pac-12 team has made the four-team field. 

Live updates

Big win

Final: USC 38, Notre Dame 27

The Trojans cap their first regular season under Lincoln Riley with a 38-27 win over Notre Dame. Huge performance from Caleb Williams and some timely plays from the defense help USC keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive. Only loss for this team is a 43-42 heartbreaker at Utah, and there's another chance next week to beat a quality foe (either Utah or Oregon).

November 27, 2022, 3:58 AM
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November 27, 2022, 4:25 AM

Garbage touchdown

Drew Pyne hits Michael Mayer for a touchdown to make it 38-27 (two-point conversion failed). This has been a game to grow on for Drew Pyne. Though some may point to the fumble and interception, in the second half he was otherwise excellent tonight. 23 of 26 for 318 yards and three TDs.

November 27, 2022, 3:55 AM

Caleb Williams!

He puts the exclamation point on this game and on a great individual performance with a 16-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-2 after the interception. Now 38-21.

November 27, 2022, 3:44 AM

That may do it

Drew Pyne is intercepted by Calen Bullock. That should just about do it. Three timeous for the Fighting Irish, but the Trojans start on the Notre Dame 24-yard line ahead by 10.

November 27, 2022, 3:40 AM

Notre Dame ball

Alright, he we are with Notre Dame trailing just 31-21 and plenty of time still on the clock. Fighting Irish have moved the ball quite well tonight. Pyne has been good through the air but will need some heroics here.

November 27, 2022, 3:37 AM

Austin Jones

He's been a quiet hero for USC tonight with 146 yards on 21 carries. The Stanford transfer is taking on a featured role now that Travis Dye is out for the year, and he's proven plenty capable of being a workhorse. Having a reliable back like Jones is paying dividends here late as the Trojans try and bleed some clock.

November 27, 2022, 3:30 AM

Touchdown Irish

Five-yard touchdown run from Logan Diggs caps a 75-yard drive, though Pyne has finally thrown an incompletion. He's 17 of 18. Notre Dame won't quit, and the Irish have actually been really good offensively tonight. Their first drive is the only one that has ended in a punt. The only reason they don't have more points is because of the turnover on downs in the second quarter and the fumble in the third.

November 27, 2022, 3:16 AM

Caleb Williams scores

Williams taunted Notre Dame's defense on his way into the end zone on a three-yard TD run to begin the fourth quarter. Pass play, but he improvised as he's done many times tonight and went untouched around the left side. That's his second rushing touchdown and third total touchdown. Makes it a 17-point lead for the Trojans.

November 27, 2022, 3:03 AM

What a run

On second-and-13, Caleb Williams just made an absurd 19-yard run. He evaded several would-be tacklers in the backfield and then kept it alive making it all the way to the Notre Dame 21-yard line. He is a difficult man to tackle and is making his Heisman case on a big stage tonight.

November 27, 2022, 2:57 AM

Don't count them out

Drew Pyne still hasn't thrown an incompletion. He throws a jump ball to the end zone for Deion Colzie and he comes down with it. 23-yard touchdown and a quick answer for the Fighting Irish. Pyne has been really, really good tonight. A big run from Audric Estime on that series helped him out. Trick now is getting stops. USC has scored on four of its five possessions tonight and still has a 10-point lead and the ball.

November 27, 2022, 2:48 AM

Big trouble

Notre Dame is in big trouble now. The Trojans take the fumble and go 74 yards for a touchdown as Raleek Brown takes it 5 yards around the right side on the read-option handoff. Now 24-7. Hard to overstate how crippling that fumble was for Notre Dame. Irish were moving the football and about to make it a one-score game. Now it's a three-score game.

November 27, 2022, 2:40 AM

Disaster for Irish

Notre Dame was in the midst of a nice drive to open the third quarter, and then disaster hit. A Drew Pyne fumble is recovered by the Trojans at the 26-yard line. Caleb Williams quickly hits Mario Williams for 14 yards. Trojans are ahead 10 and in business.

November 27, 2022, 2:36 AM
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