Southern Cal’s defense muzzles Bulldogs, dominates in 45-20 Las Vegas Bowl win

Posted: December 22, 2013 in NCAAF
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Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl

By Jesse Granger

LAS VEGAS – Cody Kessler threw for a season high 344 yards and 4 touchdowns, as USC handled Fresno State 45-20 in Saturday’s Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Kessler broke the Las Vegas Bowl record for touchdown passes in a game before halftime. The previous record of three was held by three others, including Las Vegas Bowl Hall of Famer Anthony Calvillo of Utah State.

“He’s a student of the game, and he wants to improve every week,” Coach Clay Helton said. “If you look at him from game one to now, he’s really protecting the ball well now with a high level of accuracy.”

Kessler completed 73 percent of his passes on the day, finished with a passer rating of 207 and was named the game’s most valuable player. Only four receivers caught passes for USC, but with the talent they have at the position, it’s not always necessary to spread the ball around.

“Our receivers are just freak athletes,” said Kessler. “That’s my job, to get the ball to them, and let them make plays and make the right reads.”

Star wide-out Marqise Lee – in what is likely his last game as a Trojan – finished with 118 yards and a pair of touchdown grabs. Lee gained most of his yardage after the catch.

“If you give Marqise Lee just an inch, just like you saw today, he’s going to catch an in-route and he’s going to take it the distance,” Helton said.

Nelson Agholor added 5 catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns, including a 40 yard bomb from Kessler in the first quarter.

In the second half USC turned to the ground attack to help preserve the lead. Led by Javorius Allen, who ran for 75 yards and 2 touchdowns, the Trojans were able to hold onto the ball for 41:27, compared to only 18:33 time of possession for the Bulldogs.

The USC offense fired on all cylinders, gaining 499 total yards, but was overshadowed by the defense. Fresno State’s offense entered the game as one of the most prolific in all of college football. Someone forgot to tell USC.

GameAction_03The Bulldog’s offense that averaged 570.5 yards and 45 points per game was completely outclassed, and held to less than half of those averages. Fresno State was only able to muster 37 yards on the ground, after not attempting a single rush in the first quarter.

The unbalanced attack allowed USC to put immense pressure on Derek Carr, who had his worst performance of the season. In his last collegiate game to impress NFL scouts – including Raiders’ GM Reggie McKenzie, who attended the game – Carr threw for 217 yards on 54 attempts and missed wide open receivers on multiple occasions.

“We came into this game saying we were going to be ultra-aggressive in all three phases of the game,” said Helton. “It didn’t all work, but we wanted that mind-set going in, and our players fed off of it.”

The Trojans played possibly their best game of the season on the defensive side of the ball, forcing the Bulldogs to punt 8 times, nearly double their season average of 4.25. Fresno State’s only two touchdown drives were set up by special teams’ blunders by USC. The first one was on a failed onside kick early in the game, and the second on a fumble by Agholor while fielding a punt.

The nation’s leader in touchdown receptions, Davonte Davis, was held to only 74 yards and a touchdown by junior defensive back Josh Shaw.

“It’s a challenging position to play defensive back, and playing Adams all day was just another challenge,” Shaw said. “I just wanted to be real physical with him and just kind of mix it up to frustrate him and Carr.”

The bowl win is USC’s first since Pete Carroll was coach, and its 32nd in school history. It capped off the Trojans 25th 10-win season, and a 6-1 record in their last seven games.

“There was a point in the season where these guys came together, and started playing together instead of as individuals,” Kessler said. “When we do that, people saw all year that when we play together, play as a family and play for your brother next to you, anything can happen for this team.”

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