LOS ANGELES (AP) — Although Lincoln Riley was pleased by big plays and small improvements alike during No. 6 Southern California’s second straight blowout win, nothing thrilled the head coach and his sideline more than the 23-yard fumble return for a touchdown by 275-pound defensive lineman Stanley Ta’ufo’ou.
“When big people score, football is more fun,” Riley said with a grin.
Led by their biggest star of all, the Trojans had another Saturday of fun while preparing for bigger challenges ahead.
Caleb Williams threw for 319 yards and hit Tahj Washington with two of his five touchdown passes, leading USC to a 66-14 victory over Nevada.
Zachariah Branch, Michael Jackson III and Brenden Rice also caught TD passes from their Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback for the Trojans (2-0), who followed up their blowout of San Jose State with another rout of a Mountain West opponent at the Coliseum.
USC’s 668 yards were its most under Riley, and its 66 points matched the highest-scoring game of his tenure.
“I’m proud of both sides (of the ball),” Riley said. “A few plays here and there that we’re going to want back, that we know we have to continue to clean up, but we took a step this week.”
Williams passed for 258 yards and four TDs on just 15 completions while USC built a 35-7 halftime lead. He finished 18 of 24 while also rushing for 42 yards and adding another array of remarkable escapes and pinpoint completions to his collection — but Riley qualified his praise.
“He’s improving,” Riley said. “I can’t say I’m disappointed with how he’s played, but he’s got to get better. … Everybody wants to look at the score and just write the story, and there’s so much to it. There’s some things he’s done really well, especially the situational ball, and some understandings defensively have improved, but we’ve had a handful of plays in both games that we both want back, that we’ve got to go get and not leave on the table.”
USC didn’t make Williams available to reporters after the game.
South Carolina transfer MarShawn Lloyd had 76 yards rushing and 59 yards receiving, while touted freshmen Quinten Joyner and Duce Robinson scored their first career touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t finish how we wanted to in the last game, but this game, we got the young guys in,” said receiver Mario Williams, who had four catches for 66 yards.
Brendon Lewis passed for 182 yards for the Wolf Pack (0-1), who scored on their opening drive before giving up 45 consecutive points. Freshman AJ Bianco threw a 77-yard touchdown pass to Jamaal Bell on his first career pass attempt during the fourth quarter for Nevada, which went 2-10 in coach Ken Wilson’s debut last season after four straight winning campaigns under Jay Norvell.
“We just wanted to get out there and see the situations, get ’em playing,” Wilson said. “We’ve got a long season ahead of us. We played against a really good football team tonight. We got to look at all the mistakes we made. We got to fix them in the next week.”
Williams was in control from the opening drive, during which he improvised a stunning 30-yard completion to Dorian Singer while on a dead sprint to the sideline. Two plays later, he threw a perfect 22-yard TD fade to Branch, the freshman phenomenon who scored two touchdowns in the opener.
Nevada answered with a 73-yard catch by Spencer Curtis leading to a TD run by Sean Dollars.
“I thought we had a good start there, and (Lewis) made some nice throws,” Wilson said. “Kind of got away from us there early with the defense … and when that happens against a really good football team, everybody started to press. But it was sure a good throw.”
Riley began his postgame availability by voicing his displeasure with the Pac-12 for suspending backup defensive back Christian Roland-Wallace for the first half over his role in a melee during last year’s Territorial Cup game while Roland-Wallace played for Arizona.
Riley said the Pac-12 didn’t tell him Roland-Wallace needed to serve a suspension until the Thursday afternoon before USC’s second game — and when he questioned the decision, due to Roland-Wallace’s minor role in the fracas, the conference told him it was too late to reconsider.
“I don’t want this to put (Roland-Wallace) in a bad light, because it shouldn’t, and it’s wrong,” Riley said.
Nevada: It’s no fun to start a season with your toughest game of the year, but the Wolf Pack will build on the positive plays in a blowout loss, including a handful of solid drives and an eye-catching debut by Bianco, who passed for 129 yards in garbage time.
USC: The Wolf Pack were the least daunting opponent on the 2023 schedule, and the Trojans made a wealth of big plays. They also gave up another handful of big plays on defense, not doing much to assuage the persistent concerns about that unit’s growth after last season’s struggles.
The Trojans have been exactly what most voters already thought they were, so they should stay about where they started.