USC Trojans defeat Nebraska Cornhuskers in wild 2014 Holiday Bowl, 45-42

December 28, 2014

San Diego -- The University of Southern California Trojans made a splash in the school's first Holiday Bowl, doing just enough to squeeze out a 45-42 win Saturday night in an exciting offensive shootout against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Wide receiver Nelson Agholor and defensive lineman Leonard Williams, both of whom are expected to declare for the 2015 NFL draft, led their respective units as the Huskers repeatedly failed to contain them.  Agholor was able to create separation from the Huskers defensive backs all night, ending up with 7 receptions for 90 yards and 1 touchdown, while Williams, who was named the Defensive Player of the Game, registered 9 tackles and 1 sack.

The Cornhuskers came in as the underdog, but started fast and had the upper hand early in the game.  Nebraska actually took a 17-10 lead into the second quarter courtesy of two touchdown passes by quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr.  The Trojans themselves contributed to the Huskers' cause with four first quarter personal foul penalties.

However, with a combination of steady running by Javorious “Buck” Allen -- who ended up with 152 yard and 2 touchdowns on 26 carries -- and the threat of Agholor, the Trojans were able to seize control of the game, albeit by a very tenuous hold.

The Trojans led as many as 18 points when the score was 45–27 with 2:03 left in the third quarter.  In fact, they likely could have iced the game if not for Jordan Westercamp’s 65-yard catch-and-run off of a scramble by Armstrong at the end of the third quarter.

From that point, the momentum swung firmly on Nebraska’s side, as they tacked on one more touchdown and a two-point-conversion with less than 7 minutes to go.

The Huskers even had a chance to take the lead late in the game, as they drove all the way to USC’s 31 yard line and faced a third and 3, but could not capitalize. Nebraska had one last chance on its next and final drive with less than twenty seconds to go, but Armstrong's Hail Mary failed to reach the end zone.

"I trust my guys next to me to finish the game strong, even when it was coming tight there at the end I still believed in my teammates," said Williams of the close finish.

This high-scoring game, typical of the Holiday Bowl, could have produced even more points from both sides as Nebraska had a pass intercepted at the Trojans’ 12 yard line by budding star Su’a Cravens in the third quarter.  The Huskers also had two more drives stalled deep in USC territory because they were unable to convert on manageable third and fourth downs.

As for the Trojans, once they settled down in the second quarter, they reasonably could have scored on every subsequent drive. USC had their running game working and their long ball connecting quite regularly.

Those deep passes were most effective in the third quarter when the Trojans quickly scored touchdowns on two possessions lasting only 1 and 2 plays respectively.

Freshman sensation Adoree Jackson, who started at cornerback, took quarterback Cody Kessler’s pass and split the Huskers' safety for a 71-yard touchdown reception on one of those deep routes.  Kessler later added another 20-yard touchdown to Bryce Dixon, after connecting first with another promising freshman in Juju Smith for 45 yards.

Because of a clearly visible speed difference between the Trojans wide receivers and the Huskers secondary, it was easy to see why the Trojans were so keen on frequently throwing the deep ball, perhaps too often. This is because Buck Allen was also carving out large chunks of yardage on the ground, as he busted out a 44-yard sprint for a touchdown in the middle of the third quarter.

"I think they were everything we thought they would be, they were physical and skilled," said Nebraska interim coach Barney Cotton.  "Big play offense, and a physical defense."

Building for next season, the future of the Trojans looks promising, especially on the offensive side.  They have almost everybody coming back including Cody Kessler, who should garner some preseason Heisman hype after his announcement that he is staying at Troy next season.

When asked at the post-game press conference about his future plans, Kessler stated, "Yeah, I'm absolutely coming back."  

In addition to Kessler, USC will return quality players in every other position. Three of their five starting offensive linemen are true freshman: LT Toa Lobendahn, LG Damien Mama, and RG Viane Talamaivao, while the other two upperclassmen also still have eligibility left.

At the same time, there is a wealth of skill position players: Wideouts Juju Smith and George Farmer, tight end Bryce Dixon, and running back Buck Allen.

"We've laid a good foundation in year one of where we're headed as a program," said coach Steve Sarkisian.  "Our future, and I'll say it again, is ridiculously bright."

As for the versatile Adoree Jackson, it will be interesting to see whether the Trojans continue to use him both on offense and defense, along with his kickoff return duties, where he is also highly valuable, as seen by his 98-yard touchdown return in the first quarter.

On the defensive side, aside from replacing Leonard Williams, the Trojans need to collectively improve. Often the defense seems to lose track of the opposing players, especially on sequences where the opposing quarterback extends the play. All-American candidate Su’a Cravens should exert his influence more, while Jackson should be a year wiser. Also, elite defensive line recruit Kenny Bigelow, who was lost in the preseason to a torn ACL, should be back.

As for Nebraska, incoming head coach Mike Riley, who left Oregon State after a long tenure at that school, inherits a competitive team that will look to break through to the upper echelon of the Big Ten currently occupied by Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin.

By Christian Siagian
Contributing Writer for

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