So this is what it’s like when a team from a non-BCS conference faces an elite program from a BCS conference – at least most of the time.
Even if that non-BCS team is a conference champion, like Fresno State was as the Bulldogs were Mountain West champs going into the Las Vegas Bowl.
Quarterback Derek Carr, who led the nation in passing and total offense, and the large contingent of Fresno State’s “Red Wave” fan base were amped to possibly score an upset over their big, bad SoCal neighbors from USC.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, things did not work out that way as the Trojans let Carr and company know fairly quickly that the Bulldogs were not quite on par with the big boys, Cody Kessler setting career highs with 344 yards on 22-of-30 passing with four touchdowns as ‘SC used a 35-point first half to wipe out Fresno State, 45-20, in the Las Vegas Bowl.
42, 178 at Sam Boyd Stadium saw USC make things pointless early in their first post season win since 2009, as Nelson Agholor and Marqise Lee caught two touchdown passes each in the game’s first two quarters alone.
The redshirt sophomore signal caller from Bakersfield, CA earned MVP honors for his exploits.
Along with Agholor (five catches, 94 yards), Lee made one of those scoring catches a 40-yard affair as he finished with 118 yards on seven catches in what will likely be his last game as a Trojan; along with defensive back Dion Bailey and possibly several others, he is expected to make himself available for the NFL draft very soon.
Apparently new coach Steve Sarkisian, who officially took over when the game ended, was impressed with interim coach Clay Helton’s one-game audition as it was announced that the Trojan offensive coordinator will remain at USC and join Sarkisian’s staff.
“I can’t say how proud I am of this team,” Helton said afterwards. “We had to see…were we just going to say, ‘we’re not going to fail today.'”
“We came into this game wanting to make the Trojan family proud,” he added.
The ‘SC defense wasn’t exactly chopped liver in slowing down Fresno State’s (11-2) vaunted offense, holding them to a total of 254 yards and forcing Carr into many mistakes, including an interception by Josh Shaw in the end zone to stop a scoring threat in the third quarter.
They gave up 13 points to an offense that was averaging 43 points per game; seven of the Bulldogs’ 20 points were scored by Derron Smith when he intercepted Kessler and went 41 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
However, Javorius “Buck” Allen ended any hopes of a comeback when he scored the Trojans’ last touchdown, his second of the game, on a one-yard run with less than five minutes left. He led everyone with 75 rushing yards on the day.
After Allen’s score, the only thing that was left on the agenda was for the players to conduct the USC band in their victory song, “Conquest”.
It was plain to see that the ‘SC players, after going through so much in having three guys coach them this season, were plenty motivated to end their season 10-4 rather than 9-5.
Said Bailey about the Trojans’ fortitude and perseverance in playing under three coaches: “I don’t think any other program in the country could produce under circumstances that we’ve been under. You win ten games, you’ve got to respect that team.”
“Coach (Lane) Kiffin is the one who brought us together,” Lee concurred, talking about a key motivation for them all. “Coach O (Ed Orgeron) is the one who kept us together, so at the end of the day we did this for both of them.”
I’m sure at least some of you Trojan fans out there are wondering, “What’s next?” after this big statement of a win that they made.
First and foremost, the program needs to see how many of their third-year players are going to say goodbye to old ‘SC and enter the NFL draft besides (most likely) Lee and Bailey.
Then Sarkisian needs to finish putting together a staff and build up a recruiting class for signing day in February; the Trojans will be entering their last year of reduced scholarships under sanctions in 2014.
After that, who knows?
It will depend on who stays and the ranking that the recruiting class will get.
A complete review of USC’s tumultuous season will appear on this site after the new year, during the week of January 6.