Caleb Williams and USC football took care of business in Week 1 against Nevada. The Trojans trounced the Wolf Pack 66-14 to improve to 2-0 in Lincoln Riley's second season at the helm. With 66 points, the offense obviously found a groove, but how did the defense fare? Here are the four biggest takeaways from USC football's second game:
1. The offense is top-tier
Now, this was a vastly inferior opponent, so the expectation was for USC to win this game by a huge margin. A lot of teams won by huge margins in Week 1. Oregon scored 81 points, and Oklahoma won 73-3. UT Martin lost to Georgia by 41 points and still covered the spread by more than a touchdown. Early season non-conference games are (usually) easy wins for elite teams, but that doesn't mean we can't learn from them.
Saturday night, USC scored touchdowns on five of its first six drives. This is how those drives went: 1) 4 plays, 79 yards, 2:10 seconds. 2) 4 plays, 54 yards, 2:12 seconds. 3) 4 plays, 45 yards, 2:10 seconds. 4) 4 plays, 68 yards, 1:11 seconds. 5) 3 plays, 64 yards, 2:17 seconds.
Consistent and efficient. USC had no trouble moving the ball, and Caleb Williams made magic happen in the first half. Despite only playing one full series in the second half, he finished the game 18 of 24 for 319 yards and five touchdowns. Williams is building a strong case for a second Heisman Trophy.
14 different Trojans caught passes, and USC averaged over 12 yards per play. This is what was USC football was supposed to do against Nevada, and the Trojans delivered. The offense is fine, and it's as talented and productive as any other the country.
2. The defensive front actually looked good
This is the most important takeaway from USC's second game. Nevada averaged only 3.3 yards per carry last season. For a team that struggled heavily to stop the run in 2022, USC needed a confidence booster in that department. That's exactly what they got. They held Nevada to just 49 rushing yards on 38 attempts.
The new additions to the defensive front, both transfers and freshmen, are already making a big impact. Georgia transfer Bear Alexander is doing a great job of holding the interior of the defense together. He also helped lead the charge penetrating through Nevada's offensive line. One play in the second quarter, Alexander barreled right through Nevada's center and got to the ball carrier in the backfield, stopping him long enough for a teammate to get the tackle for loss. USC football isn't used to having that impact from the interior defensive line.
Jamil Muhammad and Solomon Byrd also had strong games, and freshman Braylan Shelby graded out very well. His strip sack helped him earn a 92.1 PFF pass rush grade.
Overall, the defense received a strong grade of 85.4, with run defense and pass rush grades right around that number. Tackling still leaves some room for improvement, though the Trojans improved statistically on every defensive grade. With key linebackers Mason Cobb and Eric Gentry out with injuries, Shane Lee and Raesjon Davis stepped up and turned in strong performances. Lee was USC's best run defender, filling in after Tackett Curtis was ejected for targeting.
3. USC has to limit the penalties
In Week 0 against San Jose State, USC committed eight penalties for 57 yards. Saturday night, they committed eight more for 75 yards. Penalties are partly a coaching issue but also stem from inexperience and unfamiliar positional rotations.
Justin Dedich is one of USC's most dependable offensive linemen, but he's clearly adjusting to his new role at center. He committed two snap infractions and botched a snap that led to a turnover.
The offensive line had another false start and a couple of holding penalties in the game as well. Those are mistakes that must be cleaned up now, because USC can't afford to make them against the tougher opponents on its schedule.
Now, a big chunk of those penalty yards came from Tackett Curtis' targeting penalty, which was a rookie mistake. That was just his second career game, and young players tend to make ill-advised errors like this. There was also a questionable roughing the passer penalty called against Jack Sullivan for some very marginal contact.
Still, it's the sheer number of flags USC has drawn that causes some concern.
4. Secondary needs to limit home runs
USC's secondary was fine for the most part. Nevada totaled 311 passing yards, but two plays accounted for nearly half of those. Nevada completed a 73-yard pass and a 77-yard touchdown pass. Obviously, having busted coverages like that is never a good thing. However, USC's secondary wasn't giving up big chunks of yards over and over again. Just two plays accounted for all of Nevada's points, and the second big play was with second and third stringers in the game.
Still, this happened in Week 0 as well. USC had a couple of breakdowns in coverage and a couple of plays where defensive backs just got beat. There were a couple of other moments in the Nevada game that had potential to be big plays, but the pass rush was able to disrupt Brendon Lewis in the pocket.
Also, despite Spencer Curtis beating Domani Jackson for 70+ yards, Jackson still improved on his coverage grade from Week 0, an encouraging sign for a guy who still has very little experience.