USC started play Saturday down two main linebackers with Eric Gentry and Mason Cobb out with unspecified injuries. The Trojans would lose another linebacker in the second quarter when Tackett Curtis was ejected for targeting.
And yet, there were no excuses needed for the team’s much-maligned defense.
Outside of a 73-yard reception in which Nevada’s Spencer Curtis simply beat cornerback Domani Jackson in tight coverage down the sideline, setting up a short Wolf Pack touchdown, the visitors didn’t score again and had trouble even mounting sustained drives.
This was exactly the kind of complete performance the No. 6-ranked Trojans needed in this kind of lopsided matchup as they did their part on both sides of the ball to close out a 66-14 win inside the Coliseum.
USC (2-0) delivered 5 three-and-outs and forced 6 punts, a turnover on downs, two long missed field goals that didn’t come close to the uprights and a punctuating defensive touchdown in the fourth quarter when Braylan Shelby forced a fumble on a sack and Stanley Ta’ufo’ou returned it 23 yards for the score. The Trojans held Nevada to 360 yards overall.
And offensively, of course, quarterback Caleb Williams put on another show, completing 18 of 24 passes for 319 yards, 5 touchdowns and 0 interceptions (plus 42 rushing yards) before giving way to backup Miller Moss late in the third quarter.
Williams started the game with consecutive completions of 11 yards (to Mario Williams), 30 yards (Dorian Singer on a one-handed catch down the sideline), 21 yards (Mario Williams) and a 22-yard touchdown thrown perfectly over the shoulder to star freshman Zachariah Branch in the end zone.
After a punt on their next possession, the Trojans scored touchdowns on four straight series — a 24-yard scoring scamper by MarShawn Lloyd, a 22-yard catch-and-run pass to Washington across the middle, a 15-yard fake-handoff and wide-open pass to Michael Jackson III in the end zone and a 13-yard completion to Rice after Williams danced in the pocket for an eternity and made a defender look silly before spotting Rice for the easy score.
That made it 35-7 at halftime.
Williams added a 45-yard touchdown to Washington, who had gotten behind the defense down the left sideline, early in the third quarter to push the lead to 42-7.
Williams tied Matt Barkley’s USC record with his 11th 4-touchdown game — achieving that feat in 31 fewer games than Barkley.
Ta’ufo’ou’s fumble return for touchdown gave USC a 52-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, at which point the Trojans had only allowed 222 yards.
But on the ensuing drive, Nevada backup QB AJ Bianco threw a 77-yard touchdown pass to Jamaal Bell down the left sideline as he beat third-string cornerback Prophet Brown.
Still, it was a step forward for the defense overall.
And the offense wasn’t done either — freshman running back Quinten Joyner ripped off a 47-yard touchdown run with 9:09 left in the fourth quarter to make it 59-14.
Overall, Lloyd led USC with 76 rushing yards and a TD on just 7 carries along with 2 catches for 59 yards. Joyner had 4 carries for 65 yards and a TD. Washington had 3 catches for 75 yards and 2 TDs and Mario Williams had 4 catches for 66 yards.
Fellow freshman Duce Robinson scored a 71-yard touchdown after catching a pass from Moss with 4:02 left to play pushing the Trojans to the 66-point mark.
USC finished the game with 668 total yards of offense in Saturday’s win.
Playing a Nevada team that went 2-10 last year and lost its final 10 games, this is exactly what the Trojans were supposed to do, but nonetheless it was a confidence-builder in some key areas for the team.
Check back for a full recap and postgame coverage.
NOTES: In addition to Gentry and Cobb, USC was also without defensive lineman Tyrone Taleni for a second straight game and slot receiver Raleek Brown was not spotted with the team during warmups. Offensive guard Gino Quinones was helped off the field in the first half, limping to the sideline and later returned with a big knee brace.