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Caleb Williams and USC show their playoff ambitions in a victory over Nevada

USC quarterback Caleb Williams throws a touchdown pass during the first quarter of the Trojans’ 66-14 victory over Nevada at the Coliseum on Saturday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Of all the touchdowns USC scored — and there were many in a 66-14 loss over Nevada Saturday at the Coliseum — there is a clear choice for Lincoln Riley’s favorite. Stanley Ta’ufo’ou, the six-foot, 275-pound defensive lineman, who trotted into the end zone after a fumble, sent the USC coach jumping into the air in a euphoric sideline celebration.

“When grown-ups score,” Riley said with a slight grin, “football is more fun.”

After a disappointing season opener, the number 6 Trojans (2-0) played as a team with playoff hopes.

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Quarterback Caleb Williams so casually cut down the Nevada defense that he was able to retire to the sidelines with 2 minutes and 12 seconds left in the third quarter, after passing for 319 yards, five touchdowns and a comfortable 42-7 lead . Including backup Miller Moss’ seven completions on 10 passes, 14 USC players caught a pass and scored six, led by two touchdowns from Tahj Washington.

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Even the much-maligned defense recovered from an embarrassing touchdown on Nevada’s first possession that left the Wolf Pack scoreless for ten consecutive drives during USC’s 45-straight run run. Ta’ufo’ou underscored the scoreline, answering a fumble from freshman Braylan Shelby 23 yards to put the Trojans up 52–7. It was the Simi Valley native’s first ever touchdown.

“It’s like a dream come true to get a touchdown in front of the defensive line,” said Ta’ufo’ou.

USC defensive lineman Stanley Ta'ufo'ou celebrates with teammates after a fumble for a touchdown.

USC defensive lineman Stanley Ta’ufo’ou, left, celebrates with teammates after a fumble for a touchdown in Saturday’s fourth quarter. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Trojans overwhelmed Nevada from the start (0-1), scoring on a surgical, four-play, 79-yard first drive. Adding another highlight to his Heisman reel, Williams escaped the pressure to the right, tiptoed down the sideline and delivered a 30-yard pass to receiver Dorian Singer, who reeled in the ball with one hand.

“I yelled at him to throw it out,” Riley said. “Sometimes I’m angry when he doesn’t listen to me. This time I was glad he didn’t listen to me.”

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The jokes flowed easily after the win — like receiver Mario Williams teasing freshman Duce Robinson for finally running with his knees up during his 71-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter — but the work has only just begun. The comprehensive defeat is still far from what the Trojans will need to capture the Pac-12 in their final year in the conference.

After successfully avoiding all pitfalls against the Wolf Pack — a team that won 2-10 last season and lost their quarterbacks coach less than two weeks ago — USC will begin conference play against Stanford next Saturday at the Coliseum.

“You just have to keep climbing all year round,” Riley said. “I think we took some really positive steps tonight, but in college football, every week has its own story.”

Running back MarShawn Lloyd recovered from a nervous USC debut to make his claim to the starting role. The South Carolina transfer had a team-high seven carries for 76 yards and his first touchdown at USC, while the Austin Jones return was limited to two carries for 19 yards.

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Showing much-needed depth on defense, the Trojans overcame the loss of three inside linebackers to hold Nevada to 49 rushing yards on 38 carries.

Senior linebacker Mason Cobb and returning starter Eric Gentry watched from the sidelines with injuries, and the linebacker’s position thinned even further after first-year starter Tackett Curtis was ejected for on targeting during the second quarter. Raesjon Davis, who started in place of Cobb, teamed up with Shane Lee to anchor the defense for the rest of the game.

After enduring a nagging training camp injury that cost him his starting role, Lee led the team with 10 tackles and one sack.

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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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