Williams tosses 4 TDs as No. 6 USC bounces San Jose State in opener 

The University of Southern California began its final season in the Pac-12 Conference on a winning note. 

Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams and No. 6 USC pulled away from San Jose State 56-28 on Saturday, beating the Spartans and moving head coach Lincoln Riley to an 8-0 record in season-openers. 

While Williams and the experienced veterans captured some of the most attention, other young Trojans also caught the eyes of many, including freshman wide receiver Zachariah Branch of USC. 

Branch, a true freshman playing in his first collegiate game, led USC with 58 receiving yards across four receptions. They weren’t his only highlights of the game, however. 

Defending Heisman Trophy-winner Williams fits the bill in opener 

Williams had one completion entering the second quarter albeit went for a touchdown.

After the Trojans forced San Jose State to punt with more than 11 minutes to go until halftime, Williams turned up his jets. He completed four-consecutive passes for 92 combined yards — including a 76-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver Tahj Washington. 

The Williams-to-Washington scoring connection gave USC a 14-7 lead with 9:38 left in the second quarter, and kept the Spartans at bay for the time being. 

Williams converted a fourth-and-3 possession into a first down thanks to a 12-yard completion to Branch with 12:24 left to play in the third quarter. It led to a touchdown two plays later and showed his ability to create in and continue a drive, flashing Williams’ abilities that led him to the Heisman Trophy a season ago. 

Williams finished with 278 passing yards and went 18-for-25 in his season debut before exiting for backups Miller Moss and Malachi Nelson. He’ll have the chance to follow it up next week against Nevada. 

Branch breaks out, scores twice in USC’s season-opening win 

USC held a 35-21 lead after San Jose State wide receiver Nick Nash hauled in a 32-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. 

With 1:34 left in the quarter, Branch took a 96-yard kickoff return back for a touchdown, welcoming himself to college football and establishing himself early in his USC career.

The 5-foot-10 freshman from Las Vegas, whose older brother Zion Branch is a safety at USC, made his first catch from Williams in the second quarter for a 3-yard gain, and his next three catches all went for at least 12 yards. 

Zachariah Branch also had a 12-yard rush early in the first quarter. His prowess on both offense and special teams is among what he brings best to the football field, and USC is already seeing progress and promise from the Branch duo. 

San Jose State provides challenge, gives USC defense fits 

While Williams found his footing and the Trojans began to settle in, their defense faced a challenge from the San Jose State squad. 

USC ranked No. 106 in total defense and allowed an average of 423.9 yards per game last season. It was of little question that Riley and USC would set out to improve the defensive side of the ball in 2023. 

The Spartans set out on a 12-play, 72-yard drive that was their second of the game, and they found paydirt. San Jose State running back Kairee Robinson punched in a 1-yard score to knot the game at seven apiece less than one minute into the second quarter. 

Chevan Cordeiro of San Jose State threw for 198 yards, three touchdowns and went 21-for-38 in completions. He played well and tested USC with his athleticism, as Cordeiro also added 10 rushes for 52 yards. 

The Spartans totaled at least 176 yards of offense in both halves, including 220 in the second half and their game-best 141 in the fourth quarter. Five Spartan receivers had at least two catches, led by Nash who also had three touchdowns and five receptions for 62 yards for Charles Ross. 

San Jose State also benefitted from a recovered onside kick with time dwindling down in the fourth quarter after multiple reviews and a coach’s challenge by Riley. The Spartans pulled all the stops to try and halt USC, and they’ll move on to Oregon State next week to try and capture the other side of the score column.