USC report card: grading Trojans after 11th win of 2022 vs Notre Dame

Football games are fundamentally pass-fail tests, not term papers graded on an A-B-C-D-F scale. What matters most is that USC defeated Notre Dame, 38-27, to move to 11-1 on the season, one win away from a spot in the College Football Playoff.

The Trojans are not an airtight team, and they’re not an imposing, overwhelming two-way juggernaut on both offense and defense. However, their offense is definitely for real, and the simple fact that they have Caleb Williams and Lincoln Riley has been more than enough to lift them to 11 wins, the Pac-12 Championship Game, and a New Year’s Six bowl bid.

Let’s hand out the grades to the Trojans after another imperfect but winning effort, as this magnificent, overachieving season heads into December with big prizes on the table:

CALEB WILLIAMS

GRADE: A+

He slices, he shreds, he even juliennes!

Caleb Williams has just been compared to a food processor on a late-night infomercial … but seriously, he can do it all. He punted well. He broke up a pass which might have been intercepted. That penalty saved USC three points in a game it won by 11.

Hello, Heisman.

RUNNING BACKS (AUSTIN JONES)

GRADE: A+

He’s physically fresh, he’s motivated, and he knew Notre Dame’s personnel quite well from his days at Stanford. Austin Jones is enabling USC’s ground game to not miss a beat after the Travis Dye injury.

WIDE RECEIVERS

GRADE: B+

Not the explosiveness we saw against UCLA, but certainly a solid, productive, workmanlike effort. Tahj Washington and Brenden Rice made impressive, important catches. The offense functioned really well. The running game was the star of the show, but the receivers did more than well enough to win.

OFFENSIVE LINE

GRADE: B+

Not the best pass-blocking night, but Caleb Williams was able to work around those flaws. USC’s run blocking was very impressive. The line was tested by Notre Dame and didn’t always win the line of scrimmage, but it fundamentally held up well.

Pay attention to Andrew Vorhees — he left the game and will need to be monitored on a short week heading into the Utah clash on Friday in Las Vegas.

DEFENSIVE LINE

GRADE: B-

The defensive line’s pass rush couldn’t get home very often. Not sacking Drew Pyne on a consistent basis enabled Pyne to shred USC’s secondary. However, USC’s run defense is so much better than it was in the first half of the season. USC did not get overpowered, which prevented Notre Dame from controlling the ball and keeping Caleb Williams off the field. That was the central task for USC’s D-line, and the group achieved it. The unit definitely deserves a grade higher than a C-plus.

LINEBACKERS

GRADE: C+

Notre Dame’s tight ends wore out the linebackers, but run support was solid. Eric Gentry played more snaps and looked better, but this group still has a lot of room for improvement and must now deal with Utah’s Dalton Kincaid. It’s time to step up for this group against the Utes.

SECONDARY

GRADE: C-

Making Drew Pyne look great is a real problem, but on a night when the opponent scored only 27 points, we’re not going to hand out a D or D-plus.

As with the linebackers, we need to see something much better against Utah.

SPECIAL TEAMS

GRADE: B-

NOTHING CATASTROPHIC HAPPENED! That’s a passing grade and, more precisely, an above-average grade for a flawed unit.

To be clear, Lincoln Riley avoided having his punt team on the field. This is why he pooch punted twice with Caleb Williams. He did not want to face Notre Dame’s punt-block unit. That’s smart coaching.

Nevertheless, avoiding any real mishaps was a win for USC in this game. We’ll take it however we can get it. This kind of result against Utah should suffice.

OFFENSIVE COACHING

GRADE: A

Everything was great except for that needless Philly Special when basic plays were working. Lincoln Riley found a way around the Notre Dame defense. He put Caleb Williams in a position to succeed. The opening script was magnificent. The run-pass mix worked, and it kept the Trojans in possession of the ball, which kept the defense rested.

DEFENSIVE COACHING

GRADE: C+

Blitzing Drew Pyne instead of sitting back and forcing him to make decisions seemed like the wrong move. Give Alex Grinch credit, though: His team continues to handle opponents’ rushing attacks. That part of the puzzle has been largely figured out.

Now we get to see if Grinch can contain Utah’s Dalton Kincaid.

LINCOLN RILEY

GRADE: A+

We’re not talking about his offensive coaching, but his holistic coaching. The two pooch punts with Caleb Williams were brilliant ways of avoiding a blocked punt. He has USC at 11-1. What else is there to say?

Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire