Four takeaways from USC’s win over Nevada: Trojans’ defense steps up despite injuries

Tribune Content Agency

LOS ANGELES — USC extended its home win streak to nine consecutive games with a 66-14 rout over Nevada on Saturday at the Coliseum. It didn’t take Lincoln Riley long to start thinking getting the streak to a perfect 10 with conference foe Stanford visiting next.

“We took a step this week,” Riley said in his opening statement after the blowout win, “and we got a big one coming up and we gotta continue to take those steps.”

Here are four takeaways from USC’s win:

Got your back

Two inside linebackers wore sweatpants on the sideline. Another was stuck in the locker room after being ejected. And the Trojans still had their best defensive performance against the run in four years.

Linebackers Raesjon Davis and Shane Lee anchored the short-handed defense that held Nevada to 49 yards on 38 carries, the lowest rushing total for a USC opponent since Arizona State’s 47-yard total on Nov. 9, 2019.

Starter Mason Cobb and top reserve Eric Gentry both missed the game with undisclosed injuries that aren’t expected to sideline them long term, Riley said. Freshman Tackett Curtis, who started for the second consecutive game, was ejected for targeting in the second quarter.

Davis, who started in Cobb’s place, had four tackles and shared a tackle for loss. Lee finished with a team-high 10 tackles and one sack after minimal practice time because of an undisclosed injury suffered during preseason camp, but the senior captain showed his maturity by staying engaged with the team so he could help when needed.

“I haven’t been on the field a whole bunch through fall camp, but always taking reps, always asking questions and just always being around the guys, that way you never get away from it,” Lee said. “They’ve done a great job of always keeping me involved so really just a credit to my team and my coaches.”

Aerial attack

With transfers Bear Alexander and Jamil Muhammad crashing the pocket and suffocating opposing rushing attacks, USC’s remade defensive front is starting to live up to expectations. The secondary has not followed suit.

Last week, the Trojans gave up three receiving touchdowns to San José State’s Nick Nash — who was a quarterback two seasons ago — then they allowed two passes of 70 yards or more against Nevada. The 77-yard completion to Jamaal Bell and the 73-yarder to Spencer Curtis accounted for 41.7% of Nevada’s 360 total yards.

After dropping an easy interception last week, sophomore cornerback Domani Jackson again missed on a major play, giving up the long pass that set up Nevada’s first touchdown despite running stride-for-stride down the sideline with Curtis. Jackson was also the defender on a converted fourth-and-one at the end of the first half, giving up 10 yards to Keleki Latu and allowing Nevada to attempt a long field goal at the end of the half.

Jackson, the former Mater Dei star who is in his first year as a starter after a knee injury slowed his progression last year, had five tackles and one pass breakup.

Settling down

The Trojans (2-0) appear to be zeroing in on a top offensive line unit. After switching both guard positions on every drive last week, the Trojans kept Jarrett Kingston at right guard on every meaningful drive while alternating between Emmanuel Pregnon and Gino Quinones at left guard until Quinones, a redshirt senior, suffered a leg injury during the first quarter. Pregnon, a transfer from Wyoming, played five of the seven drives after the injury until the coaching staff started clearing the bench. Despite starting against San José State, freshman Alani Noa did not crack the rotation until Quinones’ injury.

Quinones was carted into the locker room and returned to the sideline on crutches with a large brace on his right leg. Riley didn’t have an immediate update on the offensive lineman, saying the team is “keeping our fingers crossed.”

Florida transfer Michael Tarquin played seven of the first nine drives at right tackle with Mason Murphy filling in on two drives, both during the first half.

Pick your poison

USC is doing just fine without Jordan Addison.

The Vikings rookie dominated the receiving spotlight for the Trojans last season, but this year’s team is content to thrive on depth. USC had 12 players catch a pass in the season opener and 14 in Saturday’s blowout. No receiver has hauled in more than four catches in a single game.

“This group of recievers [sic] is special,” receiver Brenden Rice tweeted after the game. “Anyone can eat at any given moment. What’s even crazier is that any of these guys could be the number 1 receiver at any other school and we all together.”

With two touchdowns Saturday, Tahj Washington has the team-lead in touchdowns with three and 160 yards, but he was most excited to answer a question about blocking downfield for his fellow receivers. The selfless attitude is one of the reasons his teammates would “ride or die” for the transfer from Memphis, quarterback Miller Moss said.

“Tahj is just the man. I don’t know how else to put it,” said Moss, who entered late in the third quarter and completed seven of 10 passes for 134 yards and one touchdown. “There’s so many things that you don’t see that he does, whether it’s on special teams, blocking on the perimeter, and it’s no surprise to see him shine the way he does. The dude never complains, never whines about not getting the ball, always does his job at a super, super high level.”