By 750 The Game Staff
Caleb Williams’ 2022 campaign at USC will be foremost remembered for his winning the Heisman Trophy. And rightfully so.
But Beaver fans will be quick to bring up the one game where Williams — unhampered by injury — seemed helpless.
Oregon State had Williams and USC on the ropes the night of Sept. 24, 2022 at Reser Stadium. The future Heisman winner was held to 180 yards passing and completed only 44.4% of his pass attempts, both numbers that would remain season-lows.
But when it mattered most, Williams came through. He converted a 4th-&-6 with his legs late in the fourth quarter, then found Jordan Addison moments later to put USC in front of OSU 17-14 with 1:13 remaining. The Trojans defense sealed the win with a fourth interception off Beavers quarterback Chance Nolan, escaping Corvallis with a victory and a 4-0 record.
Still, the job Beavers defensive coordinator Trent Bray and his unit did to smother the electric Williams & the USC offense sent ripples into the college football world.
Williams sat down with John Canzano at Pac-12 Media Day in Las Vegas and reflected on what happened that night in Corvallis.
“They’re just a well-coached team. They’re a lot better than people thought,” Williams said on 750 The Game. “People say Oregon State-this and Oregon State-that, they’re a well-coached team and have good players. You go look at the draft and where some of their players ended up. They still have a bunch of good players, can’t knock them on that. Well-coached defensive-wise and offensive-wise. Can’t knock them on that.”
Clearly, Oregon State was better than what Williams and USC gave them credit for going into that week four game. USC had put up 40 points on three straight opponents en route to being ranked No. 7 in the AP Poll at the time. Oregon State was 3-0 and still unranked despite posting big non-conference wins over Boise State and Fresno State and dropping 68 points the week prior on FCS Montana State.
So what did the Beavers do, exactly, that befuddled Williams so much?
“What happened there, they showed me a bunch of stuff,” Williams remembered, while trying to avoid specifics. “Packed the box in. Whether they were dropping out or coming after me. They did a good job. They had a bunch of experienced guys, but they did a good job.”
Canzano also talked with Trojans head coach Lincoln Riley and asked him about that night. Riley admitted the atmosphere in Reser Stadium was tougher than his team expected, as was the Beaver defense.
“A lot of people tried to copy what they did,” Riley said of Bray’s scheme and gameplan. “That’s what happens, that’s just ebs and floes to the season.
“They played a really good game, they did not make a ton of mistakes defensively, they tackled us well. It was a great atmosphere. Anybody that was in the stadium that night knows. Challenging atmosphere. We did not play well, we did not handle it well until the end of the game, offensively.”
The end of the game featured an 11-play, 84-yard drive that took 3-1/2 minutes and was capped by the Williams to Addison game-winning touchdown.
“It came down to us going back to basics and doing the simple stuff, which in the beginning we weren’t doing, and weren’t doing it well when we did it,” Williams said.
Getting four interceptions on defense certainly helped.
“Defensively we played out of our mind,” Riley said. “We played tremendous.”
Oregon State fans will remember that night as the one that got away in an otherwise incredibly successful season, the first 10-win season for the program since 2012 and just the third 10-win season this century.
Williams, Riley, and USC remember it as a close call that needed resilience to survive on the road. Williams went on to be named the best player in college football, USC made the conference title game, but missed the College Football Playoff with a loss to Utah, and then were upset by Tulane in the Cotton Bowl.
This year, Riley & Williams are back for one final ride together, and the program’s last ride in the Pac-12 Conference. They won’t face the Beavers, at least not in the regular season, but will be back in the state of Oregon on Nov. 11th when they visit the Oregon Ducks.
Williams talked about why he looked forward to facing the Ducks and why he is so motivated for the upcoming season in the full interview with Canzano below.
John Canzano delivers the Bald Faced Truth afternoons 3-6 p.m. exclusively in Portland on 750 The Game.