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No. 6 USC looking for defense to show up vs. Nevada

Field Level Media

August 29, 2023 at 7:17 pm.

Lincoln Riley knows what narrative is bound to form after No. 6 Southern California’s season-opening win over San Jose State.

The Trojans doubled up the Spartans 56-28, but because porous defenses have become a hallmark of recent Riley-coached teams, the 28 is what jumps off the page.

USC (1-0) will have another chance to tackle its defensive struggles when it hosts Nevada on Saturday in Los Angeles.

“Everybody is going to write the narrative after the first game. It’s going to be a climb,” Riley said in his postgame press conference. “The ceiling for that (defense) is much higher than it was 12 months ago. No matter what the score was … If this was a three-point game, 28-point game or 50-point game — there’s going to be that climb to the next step.”

USC clung to a 21-14 lead at halftime before pulling away with three touchdowns in the third quarter. Freshman Zachariah Branch caught a 25-yard touchdown pass and returned a kickoff 96 yards for another score.

Caleb Williams’ Heisman Trophy defense began with a 278-yard, four-touchdown performance. The quarterback connected with 12 different receivers, including Brenden Rice, son of Jerry, for a 12-yard touchdown.

Meanwhile, San Jose State managed to gain 396 yards of offense. The production was split evenly — 198 yards passing and 198 on the ground.

Speaking Monday in a weekly radio appearance, Riley said his staff learned a lot about the defensive front seven.

“We made a couple of plays that were phenomenal that I don’t know that we make at any point in the season before,” Riley said. “We made a couple of critical mistakes. There’s two or three plays from the linebacker position that directly (contributed) to 21 points, and we can’t make those. … I think they’re gonna get corrected quick and I think these guys are gonna get better fast.”

The next quarterback the Trojans will face has experience playing against them in the Pac-12. Nevada coach Ken Wilson named Colorado transfer Brendon Lewis the team’s starting quarterback on Monday.

Lewis started 12 games for Colorado in 2021 and threw for 1,540 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions that year, adding two rushing scores. He lost the Buffaloes’ starting gig early in 2022 and entered the transfer portal.

“Practice by practice since the day he’s been here, Brendon has taken the leadership role,” Wilson told reporters. “He was voted unanimously a team captain by his teammates. We just think at this moment in time Brendon gives us the best chance to win football games.”

The Wolf Pack open their second season under Wilson after going 2-10 last year and finishing last in the Mountain West Conference’s West Division, with an 0-8 conference record.

Lewis isn’t the only new piece on offense. Nevada welcomed two transfers at running back, Sean Dollars (Oregon) and Ashton Hayes (Cal). Dollars was once a top-150 high school recruit in the nation but got limited playing time at Oregon.

Despite the relatively close proximity of Reno to Los Angeles, the two programs have not played since 1929. USC owns a 5-0 series lead.

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