USC’s defensive woes entrance and heart in slim win over Cal

As contenders fell and chaos reigned among the many ruling class of school soccer, Tuli Tuipulotu stood amid the wreckage Saturday evening together with his arms raised in triumph. It wouldn’t be lengthy earlier than the triumph turned to feverish aid.

USC’s final two video games had been troublesome for its star defensive lineman — and the Trojans protection as a complete. Over 1,100 yards had been given up. Almost 40 tackles had been missed. A beforehand unblemished file and clear path to the Faculty Soccer Playoff was misplaced within the course of, elevating additional doubt concerning the trajectory of a Trojans protection struggling to cease anybody with a lot as a pulse.

On a Saturday when three of the nation’s high six groups — No. 1 Tennessee, No. 4 Clemson and No. 6 Alabama — had been all stopped of their tracks, USC practically discovered itself among the many many fallen contenders. What started as a formidable bounce-back efficiency for its protection practically devolved right into a nightmare earlier than USC escaped with a 41-35 victory.

As Tuipulotu threw down quarterback Jack Plummer for his second sack, USC appeared nicely on its method to defibrillating its lifeless protection. USC had shut down the Cal speeding assault, giving up a season-low 63 yards, and saved Plummer beneath duress, with Tuipulotu contributing two of three sacks.

USC defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu (49) celebrates with teammates Nick Figueroa (99) and defensive lineman Stanley Ta’ufo’ou (47) after sacking California quarterback Jack Plummer in the course of the first half.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Occasions)

However as time ticked away, Plummer saved discovering holes in USC’s secondary as he racked up 406 yards passing and three touchdowns. The Trojans practically gave up 500-plus yards for the third consecutive week, this time capping the overall at a mere 469.

It was sufficient definitely to maintain USC on its toes late. A shock onside kick and subsequent landing drive left Cal down simply seven factors with 9 minutes remaining, a reminder of how shortly this USC protection is able to dropping its grip.

If not for Caleb Williams, who as soon as once more carried USC with a 360-yard, four-touchdown efficiency, the Trojans may need let this one slip away. Alas, they’d dangle on.

USC quarterback Caleb Williams looks to pass during the second half against California on Saturday night.

USC quarterback Caleb Williams seems to move in the course of the second half towards California on Saturday evening.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Occasions)

USC quarterback Caleb Williams runs the ball late in the fourth quarter to secure the Trojans' 41-35 victory Saturday.

USC quarterback Caleb Williams runs the ball late within the fourth quarter to safe the Trojans’ 41-35 victory Saturday.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Occasions)

Cal got here out swinging from the beginning towards USC’s reeling protection. Freshman working again Jaydn Ott ripped off a 22-yard achieve to open the sport, and Cal marched down the sphere in simply 5 performs, the final of which noticed Ott slip via a number of tackles on his method to the top zone.

However the Bears struggled mightily to maneuver the ball from there till the third quarter. After the Trojans had been trampled for 76 yards on that preliminary drive, they clamped down, holding Cal to only 88 over their subsequent six. Ott, in the meantime, completed the primary half with one fewer speeding yard than he’d gained on Cal’s opening drive, slowed by a abruptly stingy USC entrance seven.

The renewed effort on protection early was vital, contemplating USC’s electrical offense didn’t all the time have its normal spark.

Williams nonetheless largely had his means with Cal’s protection, regardless of as soon as once more being with out his high two receiving targets. He nonetheless discovered Tahj Washington (112 yards and a landing) and Michael Jackson III (115 yards and two touchdowns) in huge moments and nonetheless conjured huge performs via the air, finishing 10 passes of 15 yards or extra, together with a 59-yard display that Jackson took to the home.

Quickly, Cal would discover its personal rhythm on offense. Luckily for USC on Saturday, it was too little too late.