LOS ANGELES — This was Lincoln Riley at his best.
Riley, the first-year football coach from Southern California, walked onto the field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday as the stands filled up ahead of his team’s game against Notre Dame. About 30 minutes before kick-off, he stopped for his usual interview, the one that is broadcast over the stadium’s PA system.
“It’s not a vision anymore,” Riley said. “Tonight is real. Enjoy it.”
So what would Riley have done if the fifth-ranked Trojans had reeked of the Colosseum and lost to the 13th-ranked Fighting Irish? And if they had embarrassed themselves in this legendary Coliseum?
As usual, we’ll never know.
Follow every game: NCAA College Football Live Scores
Oh, and the USC faithful? They didn’t just relish their team’s 38-27 victory over Notre Dame that brought the Trojans one step closer to the college football playoffs.
They savored it.
They savored it.
They reveled in it, and as the game clock ticked down, they began to sing along enthusiastically.
“We are! SC!”
“We are! SC!”
“We are! SC!”
HIGHS AND LOWS:Week 13 winners and losers in college football
TURNING TABLES:Harbaugh owns the Big Ten after Michigan transformation
After the game, Riley looked no less impressed with what he saw from his team as the crowd of 72,613, the largest for a USC home game this season.
“I don’t know if it’s been that way for a long time,” he said. “I had never been here before. But man, it was electric in there.
Electricity first crackled a year ago on Monday, when Riley was introduced as the Trojans’ new football coach and said he intended to make USC ‘the mecca of football. university”.
Did he really believe any of this was possible now, given that USC would likely earn a berth in the college football playoffs if the Trojans beat Utah — the only team that beat them in the regular season — in the game of Pac-12 Championship Friday in Las Vegas?
“I didn’t think yes or no,” Riley said in his postgame press conference. “It’s like now. You just go to work and you start setting it up as fast as you can and start building the culture as fast as you can and I can’t say, yeah, I knew this was going to happen.
“But at the same time, I don’t believe in putting limits on what you can accomplish, especially if you have the right people in the building and everyone decides to be selfless and work hard for each other. for others and that’s what this band did.
Let’s not forget that this group was largely put together through the transfer portal after Riley inherited a team that finished 4-8 last season. In all, he made 26 transfers, and on Saturday 12 of them left for the Trojans.
There was quarterback Caleb Williams, who last year played in Oklahoma under Riley. Now, the escape artist was dodging countless potential Notre Dame tacklers while throwing for 232 yards and a touchdown on 18 of 22 passes and rushing for 35 yards and three more touchdowns. For crying out loud, he even threw twice, including a season-best 58 yards.
There was running back Austin Jones, who played last year for Stanford. Now he was snaking or slapping Notre Dame defenders while rushing for 154 yards. Then there is the flimsy defense.
The USC offense, well, it was just as impressive as what Riley built in Oklahoma. And the USC defense, well, just as suspect as what held up Riley’s teams in Oklahoma.
Yet on Saturday night it became clear that the defense was getting back into shape as the season reached its most critical juncture. They delivered with a late interception and key fumble recovery and stuffing Notre Dame’s rushing attack. The top tackle this season is Shane Lee, who played last season at Alabama. He had four tackles and a tackle for the loss on Saturday.
“I played a pretty well-rounded game of football defensively,” Riley said, “and we talked to our guys a lot about the gap between where we are and what we’re capable of, and we took steps to close that gap tonight.”
The place also exuded confidence before and after the game.
Calen Bullock, USC’s starting safety, said of Notre Dame: “We knew they were going to try to come here and we thought they were going to outplay us physically, but we weren’t going. ”
Williams, a serious contender for the Heisman Trophy, looked sheepish when asked to strike the Heisman pose after two of his rushing touchdowns.
“Honestly, I hit it because a bunch of my teammates were saying, ‘Do it,'” Riley didn’t seem at all unhappy.
And in the postgame carnival of hugs, high fives and cheers, in an end zone awaited Southern California school president Carol Folt, who was among the decision makers when the school lured Riley here – apparently for $100 million over 10 years.
“He was the right fit,” Flot told USA TODAY Sports. “We knew it and he felt it. And I don’t think he ever doubts. He comes in and he works with his players in a really magical way and he shows that attitude. I really respect that positive attitude, we’re going to do it, and they’re doing it. ”
The president and the football coach hugged in an end zone.
The president then shared what she said to the coach.
“I love seeing what you always said you could do and you do.”