Football in Northern Nevada is finally back. After a rough 2022 season, Ken Wilson and the Wolf Pack are ready for some improvement. It won’t come easy to start, as Nevada is set to face USC this Saturday at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. This Nevada roster underwent a major makeover during the offseason, and their days of only winning two games should be over. With all the change comes a lot of question marks. Will the 14 Pac-12 transfers make that big of a difference? Can an inexperienced offensive line hold it down for the offense to score? Will the secondary take that big step forward?
Taking on USC in Week 1 is about as tough as it gets. Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams will put up many points, even against a defensive-minded Wilson. Williams led USC to a 56-28 win against San Jose State in Week 0, throwing four touchdown passes with 278 passing yards. While Nevada’s defense will struggle against the Trojans, I believe the offense led by Brendon Lewis can follow the Spartans’ footsteps and score between 20-30 points.
Nevada (0-0) vs. USC (1-0)
Location: L.A. Memorial Coliseum
Date/Time: Saturday, September 2 at 3:30 PST
Broadcast: Pac-12 Network
Line: USC by 38.5 points. The over/under is 66 points.
History: This will be the sixth time the Trojans and Wolf Pack matchup. It’s been almost a century since their last matchup, dating back to 1929. The Trojans won that game in a 66-0 blowout and are 5-0 against the Wolf Pack overall.
Keys to the Game
1. Can Brendon Lewis bring his Pac-12 energy against USC?
The dual-threat QB hasn’t been a starter since 2021. While playing for Colorado that year, Lewis completed 58 percent of his passes for 1,540 yards, 12 touchdowns (10 passing, two rushing) three interceptions, and a 118.8 passer rating. He can run and throw with ease, and that’s a spark we haven’t seen in the Nevada QB room in a while. Even with Carson Strong’s monster arm, there was no threat of a scramble. Lewis is going to make the Trojans defense throw some fits, which should hopefully lead to a big first half.
2. What about the rest of the offense?
While Lewis will do plenty on his own, his weapons should make it even harder for the Trojans’ defense. Running back Sean Dollars, another Pac-12 transfer from Oregon, is a breakout candidate in the backfield. He rushed for 316 yards (6.4 yards per carry) 18 catches, and 144 yards for the Ducks in four seasons. He lines up as RB1 for the Wolf Pack and should get plenty of carries for a potential 1,000-yard rushing season. The wide receiver room is deep, mixed with returning players and Pac-12 transfers. Jamaal Bell, Dalevon Campbell, and Spencer Curtis all return for Nevada, with transfers Isaah Crocker and John Jackson III in the mix. Tight end Keleki Latu will also be on the list of potential breakout candidates on this Nevada offense. The 6-6 junior transferred from Cal this season, racking up 207 yards with a touchdown last year.
I expect Nevada’s offense to put up similar numbers as the Spartans in Week 0. The Trojans only lead by a touchdown against the Spartans going into halftime, and Nevada’s offense is more than capable of keeping it that close.
3. How dominant can Nevada’s defense be?
Limiting the Trojans to under 60 points would be a miracle. The Wolf Pack’s defense is filled with potential, and don’t count them out to turn some heads in Week 1. The linebacker room is probably the best defensive unit on the team. Dru Watts is a monster and I expect a huge season out of him. Eli’Jah Winston and Naki Mateialona will line up alongside Watts. Although Nevada lost Dom Peterson on the defensive line, don’t sleep on them. Dion Washington is the next big thing on that defensive line, with the potential to be another Peterson for Nevada. Even the secondary got a major boost with Eastern Washington transfer Tre Weed. The defense isn’t as new as the offense is, but the potential is loaded. All it takes is one game for it all to click, and we’re potentially looking at one of the top defensive groups in the Mountain West. Williams is going to go deep, run around, and play like Patrick Mahomes. Nevada’s defense is still going to give him fits, and don’t be surprised if the Wolf Pack gets a lot of pressure on Williams in the pocket.
Even with the loaded potential, there’s a reason USC is heavily favored. I predict the final score to be 63-26 USC. Lewis will throw two touchdowns, and kicker Brandon Talton will get most of the work in the field goal department. I don’t doubt that this Nevada offense could score 30 points, especially with how slow the Trojans’ defense was in Week 0. Williams and the Trojans’ offense is just too powerful, however, and it’ll be good growing pains for Nevada’s defense. Playing one of the best in the country is a great way to build confidence, and it’s something the Wolf Pack will hold with them until the end of the season.