USC football stays locked in on Stanford at Wednesday’s practice

Caleb Williams evaded NFL speculation while building rapport with his many talented pass catchers.

Photo of Tahj Washington wearing a red practice jersey with yellow shorts.

Through two games, the No. 6 USC Trojans have started the 2023 season undefeated with an average margin of victory of 40 points. Despite the early success, the intensity on the practice field only ratcheted up on Wednesday afternoon.

The midweek practice took place just three days away from USC’s first conference matchup against the Stanford Cardinal. Its players, from the quarterback on down, made sure that the game was the only thing the team was focused on.

Junior quarterback Caleb Williams, who is expected to be one of the top prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft, was asked about comments his father Carl had made in a recent GQ article. Carl suggested that Caleb may choose to stay at USC for the 2024 season depending on which NFL team received the first overall pick in the draft. Caleb immediately shut down such speculation.

“We got Stanford this week, and that’s what I’ll be worrying about,” he said. “That game is three days out, and the main goal is to go out and win against Stanford and not let my teammates down on Saturday. That will be the answer to all those questions about the NFL.”

Williams solely focusing on the college game has done him some good, as his offense has averaged over 60 points per game thus far. It helps that his wide receiver room is loaded with talent. A clear standout thus far has been redshirt senior Tahj Washington, who leads the team in both yards and touchdowns.

“Tahj works on his game all the time,” Dennis Simmons, the outside wide receivers coach, said. “Since we’ve gotten here, he’s improved on his focus and concentration on deep balls. So far, with the amount of touches and yards that he’s gotten, scoring three touchdowns on five catches, you can see the proof in his work.”

Simmons was not the first coach this week to praise Washington. After the Nevada win last Saturday, head coach Lincoln Riley called him one of the most unselfish players he has ever coached. Despite the praise, Washington is honing in on how he can get better.

“I still have a lot to clean up in terms of my route running and perimeter blocking,” Washington said. “We’re two games down, with a lot more to go.”

Washington’s production has not been a new phenomenon at USC; he was very productive in 2022 as well. However, a major surprise through two games has been wideout Duce Robinson, who is second on the team in yards as a true freshman. After scoring his first collegiate touchdown last weekend, he spoke to the media for the first time as a Trojan on Wednesday.

“Honestly, I kind of blacked out during [the touchdown,]” Robinson said. “I remember catching [the ball,] and I remember touching the end zone. It was an incredible feeling, especially seeing the sideline celebrating and seeing all those guys sprinting after me. It really makes you feel like this team cares about each other. It’s a blessing to be able to play.”

Junior wide receiver Michael Jackson III also made his presence felt in his first game, scoring a 15-yard touchdown. Despite that score being his only catch, Jackson raved about the dynamic in the receiver room.

“There’s so much talent,” Jackson said. “We all thrive off each other to make each other better. We all learn things from each other. We play to each other’s strengths, see what we can work on and hold each other accountable.”

While the reigning Heisman Trophy winner has racked up most of the passing stats thus far, the statistics on the receiving end have been remarkably evenly distributed. No individual wide receiver has had more than six catches across the first two games, but seven have had at least four.

“I want to spread the ball around and distribute the ball to all my wide receivers, running backs, or tight ends,” Williams said. “I want to spread the ball around and have everybody be happy, but I also go win big games. I don’t want people to know tendencies from me and our offense. One of the biggest things for me is to spread the ball around to whoever at whatever point I want.”

Saturday night’s matchup will be the last for USC prior to their first bye Week, so coaches and players alike are making sure to keep their feet on the gas before an early break.