College football has officially returned, and a number of teams played this past weekend to kick off the 2023 college football season, including the sixth-ranked USC Trojans. USC began the season vs. San Jose State, and they had a strong performance, winning 56-28 at home. Let’s take a look at three USC players who shined during the first week of the season.
Caleb Williams, Quarterback
USC’s defensive problems from last season returned vs. San Jose State, but its offense was terrific, recording 502 yards, scoring seven total touchdowns, and averaging 7.3 yards per play. The leader of this explosive offensive performance was Caleb Williams, the Trojans’ superstar quarterback and the projected number-one overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Williams was the biggest reason why USC’s offense was so productive, completing 18 of 25 passes for 278 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions. He didn’t do much as a runner, recording -2 rushing yards, but he was remarkably efficient as a passer, completing 69.2% of his passes and averaging 11.1 yards per pass attempt.
He even broke the internet with his performance as his 76-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter went viral on Twitter.
Williams was already considered an elite prospect before the season began, but he had a few areas in which he could improve, like accuracy and avoiding sacks. He wasn’t even bad at these things, but he wasn’t elite in these areas.
Caleb Williams had an on-target throw rate of 87% against San Jose State, and he took just one sack on nine total pressures for a pressure-to-sack rate of just 11.1%. Those numbers are incredible. Although this was just one game against a non-power five opponent, it appears that Williams may have improved upon his so-called “weaknesses.”
If this improvement continues throughout the season, Caleb Williams will likely be discussed as one of the greatest prospects of all time.
Eric Gentry, Linebacker
USC’s defense struggled vs. San Jose State, allowing 396 yards and four touchdowns, and they didn’t have many defensive players who shined. However, Eric Gentry, a projected fifth-round pick according to NFL Mock Draft Database, had a solid performance.
Gentry didn’t have any game-breaking plays, but he made the most of his time on the field. He was extremely productive as a pass rusher, recording two pressures on just six snaps in which he rushed the passer. He didn’t record a sack, but pressuring the quarterback that much is impressive, considering that isn’t his primary role.
He was also productive as a tackler, recording two tackles, which were both considered stops according to PFF. His tackling was pretty good, as he had a PFF tackling grade of 77.7.
Eric Gentry didn’t have a game-breaking performance, but he made his presence known when he was on the field, recording two pressures, two tackles, and a PFF grade of 70. It’ll be interesting to see if he can replicate this level of production and how he performs in coverage moving forward.
Tahj Washington, Wide Receiver
USC has a number of wide receivers who are expected to be top 100 picks in the 2024 NFL Draft, like Dorian Singer and Mario Williams, but a fairly unknown receiver on the Trojan’s roster stole the show this past weekend: Tahj Washington.
Washington only played ten snaps as a receiver vs. San Jose State, but he was quite productive, catching both of his two targets for 85 yards and a touchdown. He was remarkably productive on so few targets because of the insane throw from Caleb Williams in the second quarter, which he caught and took into the endzone.
Tahj Washington is a small slot receiver who started his college career at Memphis, but transferred to USC in 2021. He is an older prospect who has been decently productive throughout his collegiate career, but he hasn’t generated much buzz amongst the draft community. However, he has a chance to change that this season and his performance vs. San Jose State was a great start to what could be a life-changing season.