No player was more important for USC, or potentially any college football team, than Caleb Williams this season, and the Trojans saw the bad side of that on Friday.
USC lost the Pac-12 Championship Game and likely any hopes of the College Football Playoff in a 47-24 steamrolling by Utah, but only after a first-quarter injury that visibly hobbled Williams for the rest of the game.
USC head coach Lincoln Riley told reporters after the game the issue was a hamstring injury that occurred on arguably Williams' best play of the game, a 59-yard run that set up a touchdown on the Trojans' second drive of the game.
Williams started slowing down in the second quarter and was clearly limping by the start of the third quarter. Usually one of the most elusive players in college football, Utah's pass rush started teeing off on him as he remained nearly immobile in the pocket.
USC kept him in the game, though redshirt freshman Miller Moss was seen throwing on the sideline during the third quarter.
"[Williams] was not even 50 percent," Riley said, per The Athletic's Stewart Mandel. "I thought about taking him out but he wouldn't let me ... maybe the gutsiest performance (at that position) I've ever seen."
Williams was a bit more colorful in how he described the issue he was facing:
Even with an old rubber band for a hamstring, Williams still threw 28-for-41 with 363 passing yards, three passing touchdowns, one interception and 21 rushing yards (a figure depressed by seven sacks from the Utes). He entered the game as the clear favorite for the 2022 Heisman Trophy, and he likely remains the top pick.
Williams' injury doesn't absolve the Trojans' performance in Las Vegas, though. A healthy Williams wouldn't have stopped USC from getting dominated at the line of scrimmage in the second half, or fixed a level of tackling roundly mocked on social media.
USC looked like a heavily flawed team, which it is. That didn't matter for much of the season thanks to Williams' weekly heroics, but things got ugly once he was tapped out.