LOS ANGELES – After well over a century of competition, nobody knows when Southern California and Stanford will meet again on a football field.
The Trojans are headed into this rivalry's hiatus with all of the bragging rights after a blowout victory that demonstrated both programs' current place in the process of building a champion.
Caleb Williams passed for 281 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score while playing only the first half, Zachariah Branch returned a punt 75 yards for a TD, and No. 6 USC routed Stanford 56-10 on Saturday night.
MarShawn Lloyd and Austin Jones also rushed for scores, and Dorian Singer, Brenden Rice and Lake McRee caught TD passes while their Heisman Trophy winner led USC (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12) to one of the most prolific first halves in school history.
“That was one of our more complete halves, where guys were firing on all cylinders,” coach Lincoln Riley said. “All three sides of the ball just surged and got the momentum and kept it. It's fun to see the team really playing there at a high level together for a sustained period.”
The Trojans racked up 433 yards of offense and got seven touchdowns by seven players while building a 49-3 halftime lead — the third-largest in Pac-12 history — in the conference's final opening game, at least in its current configuration.
USC is headed to the Big Ten and Stanford will join the ACC next year after the collapse of the conference they’ve called home in various forms since 1922. This was also the last scheduled meeting between USC and its oldest rival in a series that began in 1905, although the private schools could resume it in the future.
“We’re proud of taking advantage of the moment, in that this is potentially the last SC-Stanford game for a while,” said Riley, who won at Stanford last year in his first road game at USC. “This was a series that we talked with the team a lot last year. This was a series that in recent years had went a little bit of a different way. I’m really, big-picture, proud to be able to get the final last two (meetings) here. It was important for us to seize the moment and opportunity.”
Williams only got seven offensive series, but he showed off every aspect of the talent expected to make him the No. 1 pick in the next NFL draft. He made a 21-yard TD run on USC's first drive, pushing through Stanford's Zahran Manley for the final few yards, and he threw a spectacular 75-yard TD pass to Rice in the second quarter to put USC up 42-3.
“Not pacing myself at all,” Williams said. “I’m going out there trying to kill. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to make everybody feel our pain and play on our own terms, like Coach said. Take that identity of ourselves and figure that out.”
USC generously used backups in the second half of their blowout of the Cardinal (1-1, 0-1).
“Obviously, we’re not at their level right now,” new coach Troy Taylor said. "But we will shoot to be there, and we will continue to work at it.”
Ashton Daniels got hurt while getting sacked early in the second quarter of his second career start for Stanford. Backup Justin Lamson passed for 121 yards and rushed for the Cardinal’s only touchdown with 3:35 to play. Taylor said Daniels' injury doesn't appear to be serious.
“We’re a young team, we knew that,” Taylor said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t be a really good team, so we’re going to continue to work, and I can promise you that those guys will not go in the tank. They’ll be ready to move on.”
USC’s defense also performed well in the first half, forcing two turnovers and holding Stanford to 146 yards after having stretches of inconsistency in the Trojans' first two blowout wins this season.
The Trojans got another spectacular play by Branch, the freshman from Las Vegas who fielded a punt early in the second quarter and split the Stanford coverage unit down the middle. Branch returned a kickoff for a TD in his electrifying debut two weeks ago.
Branch's punt return TD put the Trojans up 28-0. After Jamil Muhammad forced a fumble for USC, Williams ended another drive with another brilliant effort, extending a play with his elusiveness before throwing a 19-yard dart to Singer 10:42 before halftime.
Stanford: The impressive offense displayed at Hawaii last week disappeared against an elite opponent. The Cardinal appear to have a talent deficit after two straight losing seasons and a coaching change, but Taylor is just at the start of his rebuilding process.
USC: This rivalry game clearly meant plenty to the Trojans, who celebrated every big play on the sideline and poured it on throughout the first half. Riley's team has a week off before the schedule gets tougher, and the Trojans appear ready to take the next step.
Alabama's loss to Texas could clear a Top 5 spot for USC, or the Longhorns could leapfrog the Trojans despite this impressive victory.
Stanford: Hosts Sacramento State on Saturday, Sept. 16.
USC: At Arizona State on Saturday, Sept. 23.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll