There was a buzz in the air as you passed the peristyle ahead of Saturday’s spring game. Fans packed in for the festivities filled with a sale of surplus merchandise, food trucks and photo ops. Cardinal and Gold jerseys with names old and new flooded the aisles.
USC social media posted details of the spring game through a graphic with the same style as a Coachella lineup drop. It wasn’t an Indian music festival, but it was a Lincoln Riley football team.
The Trojans offense beat the defense 34-30 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday. The attendance of 33,427 fans was the highest for a USC spring football game since records were made available in the late 1990s.
“I thought the day was very representative of how the whole spring went,” head coach Lincoln Riley said in a postgame news conference. “Quite physical on both sides of football. Some big plays on both sides.
It was a different format than usual for a spring game. Since USC didn’t have enough corps for separate Cardinal and Gold teams, the Trojans instead fielded an offense and defense team and only played half a game of soccer.
The defense started with a 21-point lead; turnovers were 3 points; fourth saves were 3 points; a missed basket was 3 points; a defensive touchdown was 7 points and safety was 7 points. The attack started without points and with the same scoring system as usual.
Behind a solid balance of running and passing plays, the USC offense moved well on the court on its first possession.
Oregon transfer running back Travis Dye had 26 yards on 5 carries early. The ride ended with a connection Trojan fans can eventually get used to — sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams to sophomore receiver Mario Williams for a five-yard touchdown.
Caleb spoke of his strong first quarter performance but noted that his pocket play had faded as the game progressed.
“At the start it was solid, but then not so solid,” Williams said of her performance. “We need to improve the movement of the ball [in] the second half. It’s always big. It’s always a new game when you come out of this second half… We will improve.
Caleb’s debut at the Colosseum started as strong as expected. He started the game 9-for-9 for 90 yards for two touchdowns. Riley noted that Caleb and the team continue to improve on all fronts.
“[Caleb is] get better; he becomes more comfortable; he becomes a more seasoned and experienced quarterback,” Riley said. “A lot of attention is being paid to him, but we will need him in every position.”
Dye and Stanford transfer running back Austin Jones led a strong group of running backs that rushed for 94 yards. Jones was the only fullback with a touchdown, but redshirt junior Darwin Barlow also contributed strong runs.
“[The running backs] played pretty well for how long,” Dye said. “We still have a few things to clean up, but that’s what training is for.”
USC’s ensuing practice saw redshirt freshman quarterback Miller Moss under center. Moss led the Trojans with 169 passing yards. The offense opened up Moss’ first practice with an inverted run play at redshirt freshman receiver Kyron Ware-Hudson, a play common in Riley’s offense and rare in previous Trojan seasons. Ware-Hudson led USC with four receptions for 36 yards.
Moss, who received to rent out de Riley about his improvement, took the unit down the field but was eventually stopped by the defense. Senior Redshirt kicker Alex Stadthaus then perforated a 55-yard field goal.
The ensuing offensive possession ended the same way as the first: Williams found Williams. Caleb threw a dime to Mario for a 9-yard touchdown to put USC’s offense within four points late in the first quarter. Mario’s touchdown, however, would be Caleb’s last of the game.
Later, Moss’ deep ball to redshirt junior receiver Kyle Ford netted another touchdown on the board for the USC offense.
But Williams couldn’t capitalize and the defense scored three for a fourth save.
Moss’ unit managed to get another field goal, but Williams was unable to lead the unit down the field again. The defense got three more points to reduce the offensive lead to four.
The match ended with 3 more points for the Trojans defense – fitting for a team that played stronger in the second half than in the first. The offense shared the half with 17 points apiece.
With the close result, Riley underscored the players’ excitement ahead of the spring game.
“If you’re in this city and you don’t feel the momentum of this program, you’re not paying attention,” he said. “Our guys are feeling it right now. They were amplified to play this game.”
USC will take the field for its season opener Sept. 3 against Rice University.