No. 6 USC expects to see defensive improvement against Nevada

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The first look at No. 6 Southern California’s overhauled defense didn’t reveal a championship-caliber unit yet.

Despite showing some of the same issues that kept the Trojans from reaching the College Football Playoff last year in their season-opening win against San Jose State, coach Lincoln Riley expects to see significant improvement against Nevada on Saturday.

“You could play 10 different 56-28 games, and all 10 of them are going to feel different and yet the score’s going to be the same in all of them,” Riley said. “I think we’ll make a big jump, correct a lot of this, and I expect a great, very confident group that will go out and play a cleaner game this week.”

Riley felt there was more good than bad for USC (1-0) but linebacker Mason Cobb acknowledged it didn’t feel that way after allowing a 28-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds left in the second quarter.

“At halftime, a lot of guys, we were upset,” Cobb said. “Not really at the score, but at ourselves, really, because we know our potential, we know the mistakes that were made.”

The Trojans finished the game allowing six yards per play and 396 yards of total offense. They had one sack and did not force a turnover. There were issues with the defensive line losing containment and the secondary not communicating.

“That ball makes like water, it’s gonna find a crack of where we’re deficient, and it obviously showed up,” defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said.

However, Grinch was mostly pleased with how his unit performed. That confidence should be rewarded against the Wolf Pack, who averaged 18.8 points per game to rank 120th nationally in scoring in their first season under coach Ken Wilson.

“It’s almost like a basketball coach where you kind of feel like you got the open shot and we didn’t make it, but why on earth do we not think we’re not gonna make it the next time around?” Grinch said. “So continue to put the work, continue to rep these guys and get them going. And obviously I don’t believe that’s our best yet.”


Fourth-year transfer Brendon Lewis will be the first man up at quarterback for Nevada in their season opener. Lewis started 12 games at Colorado in 2021, throwing for 1,540 yards and 10 touchdowns to three interceptions, before entering the portal midway through last season. He has not thrown a pick in his past 150 pass attempts.


The Wolf Pack have 17 former Pac-12 players on their roster, including two former Trojans in linebacker Eli’jah Winston and wide receiver John Jackson III. Winston had 2 1/2 tackles for loss with two sacks in nine games in 2022 during his first season at Nevada. Jackson had five receptions for 42 yards in four seasons at USC before transferring for his final year of eligibility.


Caleb Williams kicked off his push for a second Heisman Trophy by passing for 278 yards and four touchdowns against San Jose State. He did take a sack and was called for intentional grounding while facing a surprising amount of pressure.


Some of the early issues in pass protection for USC seemed to be caused by the Trojans' insistence on frequently changing both guard spots on the offensive line. Riley indicated the rotations wouldn’t be quite as dramatic this week, but there would still be chances for players to assert themselves.


USC hosted Nevada on Oct. 13, 1923, in the second college football game played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

For the most recent meeting between the Trojans and Wolf Pack on Nov. 9, 1929, Nevada traveled by airplane, becoming the second college football team known to have done so after New Mexico flew to Los Angeles to play a game against Occidental College at the Rose Bowl one month earlier.


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