LOS ANGELES (AP) — Caleb Williams passed for 249 yards, rushed for 68 more and hit Jordan Addison for two touchdowns, and coach Lincoln Riley’s tenure at No. 14 Southern California got off to a roaring start with a 66-14 victory over Rice on Saturday.
Calen Bullock, Shane Lee and Ralen Goforth returned three of USC’s four interceptions for touchdowns. The Trojans scored more points in Riley’s debut than they did in any game under Clay Helton, who was fired last season before a powerhouse program sank to its worst record in 30 years.
With Williams going 19 for 22 while leading six consecutive scoring drives to open the game, USC had its highest-scoring performance since 2008, when the program still reigned near the top of college football under Pete Carroll.
Riley and Williams left Oklahoma during the offseason and reunited in Los Angeles to rebuild the Trojans, who are hoping for a swift return to regular national title contention. They appear to have the talent to do it all on offense: Stanford transfer Austin Jones and freshman Raleek Brown rushed for touchdowns, while Addison — last season’s Biletnikoff Award winner at Pitt — scored on USC’s opening drive and finished with five catches for 54 yards.
Darwin Barlow also rushed for a score, and Brown had a stellar start to his USC career with 76 combined yards on just eight touches.
Wiley Green passed for 69 yards for Rice before leaving with an apparent right arm injury after throwing the pick-6 to Bullock in the second quarter. Orange County native TJ McMahon took over, but threw three interceptions in the schools’ first meeting since 1971.
Ari Broussard rushed for two scores, and Cameron Montgomery had 99 yards on the ground for the Owls.
Bullock returned a pick 93 yards for a score in the second quarter, and Alabama transfer Lee brought his interception back 40 yards on the opening drive of the third. Goforth made a 31-yard TD return on Rice’s next drive, ballooning USC’s lead to 45-14 before the offense had even touched the field in the second half.
USC hadn’t returned three interceptions for scores since Nov. 11, 1982, at Arizona. The Trojans fell one short of the NCAA record for pick-6’s.
USC opened the season with brand-new starters at every offensive skill position for its 75-yard opening drive, which ended with a catch-and-run by Addison for a 5-yard TD.
Several plays after touted freshman Brown celebrated his impressive TD run by striking a Heisman pose, Bullock snagged a deflected fourth-down pass and took it all the way back for his first career touchdown.
A Coliseum crowd of 60,113 braved 95-degree temperatures around kickoff to welcome Riley, Williams, Addison and the rest of the new Trojans.
Rice: After a few strong offensive series, coach Mike Bloomgren’s fifth-season opener got out of hand because of the tipped balls leading to pick-6’s. The potential seriousness of Green’s injury is a much bigger concern than this blowout loss to the talented Trojans.
USC: The game in oppressive September heat turned into a likely preview of the Trojans’ debut season under Riley, who has put together a formidable roster of offensive talent largely through the transfer portal. USC gave a commanding offensive performance with 538 total yards, and it had some rough defensive stretches despite its spree of four interceptions in five drives near halftime.
The Trojans have spent nearly every September during the 13 seasons since Carroll’s departure failing to live up to overly optimistic early rankings in the AP Top 25. This new team is still far from perfect, but Riley’s Trojans immediately look like they deserve the spot.
Rice: Host McNeese State on Saturday.
USC: At Stanford on Saturday.
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