Undefeated USC takes on 3-0 Oregon State in potential Pac-12 thriller

The No. 7 Trojans look to overcome their most formidable challenge yet this season against the Beavers.

USC's defensive line is pushing up against Fresno State's offensive line. The Trojans are in cardinal and gold and the Bulldogs are in white jerseys with red shorts.

Lincoln Riley’s squad has a lot to be proud of.

A 3-0 start, outscoring their opponents by a total of 93 points so far this season, has put USC back into the national spotlight. Most importantly, the Riley Revolution has given No. 7 USC its highest ranking since 2017.

But the Trojans will face their most significant opponent of the season so far as they will travel to Corvallis to battle the undefeated Beavers.

Oregon State is led by head coach Jonathan Smith, who has masterminded a brilliant start to the season with a torrid offense.

“They’re very creative with the personnel that they use,” Riley said after Tuesday’s practice. “They certainly got a system that they believe in and a style of ball they believe in and they do it very well.”

The Beavers’ veteran offense, led by redshirt junior quarterback Chance Nolan, will provide a great test for the Trojan defense, which is steadily being refined. In its most recent game, the USC defense limited Fresno State to just 17 points, much lower than the Bulldogs’ previous point totals this season of 35 and 32.

But some members of the defense think that there is still room for improvement.

“I think we’re playing okay at times,” senior inside linebacker Shane Lee said. “I think we have things to improve on, like explosive plays. I think the big thing is just the yardage in the run game.”

OSU, meanwhile, is coming off of an offensive explosion against Montana State, in which the Beavers scored 68 points. The blowout capped OSU’s 3-0 start, their best record through their first three games since 2014.

However, USC has considerable offensive firepower of its own, with sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams leading the way. The star quarterback leads the Pac-12 in completion percentage (0.744), passing efficiency (190.5) and points responsible for per game (20).

Williams will have numerous tools in Riley’s shed to throw at Oregon State.

On the receiving side, junior wide receiver Jordan Addison and sophomore wide receiver Mario Williams have been elite through the first three games, with Addison leading the team in receptions (18) and yards (295). Williams is coming off a career game against Fresno State in which he accounted for six catches and 77 receiving yards.

The Trojan triumvirate of Addison, Caleb Williams and Mario Williams have contributed to USC averaging 318.3 passing yards per game, the 17th-best average in the nation.

USC’s run game has also been a major strength this season. Redshirt senior running back Travis Dye and senior running back Austin Jones each recorded over 100 rushing yards against Fresno State, the first time a pair of Trojan running backs each recorded 100 yards or more in the same game since 2018.

In total, USC is averaging 520 yards per game, making it the 11th-best offense in college football.

For the Trojans to defeat the undefeated Beavers, USC needs to stifle OSU’s running game, something that the Trojans failed to do in their 2021 matchup against the Beavers when they surrendered 322 rushing yards in a 45-27 loss. That marked USC’s first loss to Oregon State at the Coliseum since 1960.

“They just present a lot of challenges in terms of all the things they do with their tight ends, their motions of run game, marrying the play action game off of it,” Riley said. “So it’ll be a big challenge for us, there’s no question.”

The Trojans are 2-3 in their last five meetings in Corvallis. It will be a tough road environment for USC but the result will prove whether USC can compete with the top of the Pac-12, a task the Trojans were not up to in recent years.