LOS ANGELES — Caleb Williams and the rest of USC’s offense completely overwhelmed Nevada early in Saturday’s game. A 28-point halftime lead turned into an easy 66-14 win for the sixth-ranked Trojans, who improved to 2-0 before Pac-12 play kicks off with Stanford next week.
Here are takeaways from USC’s second win of the season.
Caleb Williams remains ridiculous
Williams had the dropped snap he turned into a 76-yard touchdown in Week 0, but for the most part, he didn’t make the amazing, highlight-reel plays we saw a ton last year. He didn’t wait long to bust those out against Nevada.
On the first series of the game, Williams stood in the pocket, evaded a Wolfpack defender, sprinted to the sideline and lofted a pass downfield to Dorian Singer. Even though Williams’ momentum was going out of bounds, the pass was on target and resulted in a 30-yard gain.
Nasty catch by Dorian Singer 👀
— Jason (@TakesByJ) September 2, 2023
Later in the first half, Williams stood in the pocket, scrambled to buy his receivers some time, juked an oncoming rusher then found a wide-open Brenden Rice in the end zone to make the score 35-7.
— USC Football ✌️ (@uscfb) September 2, 2023
Williams was rather quiet last week but he completed 18 of 24 passes for 319 yards and five TDs on Saturday, which served as a good reminder of the type of talent he is.
The linebacker shuffle
USC didn’t have the services of Mason Cobb and Eric Gentry, probably its two best linebackers, on Saturday. The Trojans didn’t have to risk anything health-wise with either against the Wolfpack, which was a nearly 40-point underdog.
True freshman Tackett Curtis started for the second consecutive week but it offered a pretty significant opportunity for third-year linebacker Raesjon Davis, who made his first career start after barely playing much of his first two seasons with the program.
Without reviewing the game, it seemed like Davis played well and did a good job of staying attached to Nevada quarterback Brendon Lewis when he tried to scramble. USC struggled with the QB scrambles against San Jose State last week. Davis finished with four tackles.
Curtis’ day was cut short in the second quarter when he made helmet-to-helmet contact with a Nevada ball carrier, which led to an ejection.
That left USC without three of its top linebackers and forced Shane Lee, who didn’t play much last week as he recovered from an injury, into the lineup. Lee was impressive, finishing with 10 tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss.
The linebackers and USC’s defensive line consistently collapsed the pocket and helped the Trojans overcome a sluggish defensive start when they allowed Nevada to score a touchdown in four plays on its first offensive series.
USC finished with 76 sacks and 44 TFLs and scored a defensive touchdown when freshman Braylan Shelby forced a fumble that popped into the air and into the waiting arms of Stanley Ta’ufo’ou, who took it 23 yards into the end zone, which made it a 52-7 game in the fourth quarter.
Gino Quinones’ injury
Gino Quinones has been one of the better developmental stories of Lincoln Riley’s tenure at USC. He was essentially an afterthought a few years ago and didn’t receive any meaningful snaps during his first three seasons with the program. Last year he grew into a key part of the offensive line rotation and offensive line coach Josh Henson leaned on Quinones to start a few games because of injuries.
Quinones started last week and came off the bench this week at left guard but suffered what appeared to be a serious right leg injury. Quinones was injured during Tahj Washington’s 22-yard touchdown reception near the end of the first quarter.
Quinones spent an extensive amount of time in the medical tent afterward and was later carted to the locker room.
Quinones has been in the medical tent this whole time and just got carted off the field. pic.twitter.com/HpbSsrbziI
— USC Psycho (@uscpsycho) September 3, 2023
Along with being one of USC’s top three guards, Quinones is also the backup center, so it’s a blow to the Trojans’ offensive line depth at two spots.
Raleek Brown, a top-50 prospect who was a five-star at one point in the 2022 recruiting cycle, did not suit up and was not on the sideline during the game. Brown has been an extreme point of intrigue for USC’s fan base the past week. The second-year receiver was one of the first recruits to flip from Oklahoma to USC when Riley took the job in November 2021.
Even though Brown played running back in high school, the thought was he’d always end up in the slot because he catches really well and also because of his size (5-foot-8, 185 pounds). He was used quite a bit as a gadget player as a true freshman, lining up in the backfield, out wide and as a returner. Brown totaled 933 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns as a true freshman and was a featured part of the game plan in the Cotton Bowl. He displayed how dynamic he is but also had some struggles at running back, particularly with pass protection.
This offseason, he moved to the slot but hasn’t quite found a spot there — to the point he only appeared late in the Trojans’ 56-28 win over San Jose State last week. He also showed up on the scout team last week, which raised some alarms.
Last season, wideout Gary Bryant Jr. didn’t play much early. He asked to be on the scout team and transferred shortly after the season ended. That thought lingered when Brown showed up on the scout team this past week.
Roscoe Brown, Brown’s father, said they think it’s in Raleek’s best interest to redshirt — a sentiment that was first reported by USCFootball.com. When asked by The Athletic on Friday if his son intends to transfer, Roscoe Brown said: “We haven’t even got that far yet.”
Roscoe Brown said they haven’t spoken to Riley about the move yet but made their desire to redshirt known to inside receivers coach Luke Huard. The staff is trying to get Brown not to redshirt, his father said.
Brown’s playing time diminished as true freshman Zachariah Branch, who had a 22-yard touchdown catch on Saturday, has earned a major role in the offense. USC’s receiver room is crowded as well, which makes it tough for a player who is learning how to play a new position.
Brown has the potential to be an extremely electric player as he showed flashes of last season. He’s someone USC probably doesn’t want to lose but it’s also a sign of how much it’s increased its talent level in the past few years, particularly at the skill spots.
So we’ll see how this unfolds over the next few months.
(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today)