SAN DIEGO — Repeating what has been the trend for USC throughout the 2014 season, the Trojans, once again, struggled to close out an opponent on Saturday night, but this time around Steve Sarkisian’s squad made enough key plays down the stretch to hold on to a 45-42 victory over Nebraska in the 37th annual National University Holiday Bowl.
The Trojans led 45-27 after a Bryce Dixon touchdown catch with just over two minutes left in the third quarter, but then the Cornhuskers mounted a comeback, scoring 15-straight points. But on a critical 4th-and-3 at the USC 29-yard-line with under three minutes remaining in the game, safety Leon McQuay III stopped Nebraska’s De’Mornay Pierson-El short of the first-down.
The Huskers had one more chance a little later, as Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. threw toward USC’s end zone with no time left on a Hail-Mary toss, but then another Trojan came up clutch as Nelson Agholor – normally a wide receiver – batted the ball out-of-bounds to end the contest.
The bowl game more than lived up to its reputation as a showcase of offensive fireworks as the two teams combined for over 1,000 yards. For the Trojans, quarterback Cody Kessler enjoyed another productive night, completing 23 of 39 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. Agholor was his favorite target, making seven catches for 90 yards and one touchdown. On the ground, Javorious “Buck” Allen topped the 100-yard rushing mark for the ninth time this season, accumulating a total of 152 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.
The most electrifying performance, however, was put on by Trojans freshman Adoree’ Jackson, who excelled on offense, defense and special teams. He caught three passes for 73 yards and one touchdown at wide out, while jumpstarting USC’s scoring in the first quarter with a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
For Nebraska, Armstrong completed 31 of 50 passes for 383 yards and three touchdowns with one interception – by Su’a Cravens – and he also rushed for 41 yards and one touchdown. Cornhuskers running back Ameer Abudullah was limited to 89 rushing yards and one touchdown on 27 carries.
USC finishes the season with a record of 9-4.
Some individual USC offensive statistics:
Kessler – 23-39, 321 Yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Allen – 26 Rush, 152 Yds, 2 TD
Justin Davis – 4 Rush, 45 Yds
Agholor – 1 Rush, 0 Yds
Kessler – 3 Rush, -3 Yds
Agholor – 7 Rec, 90 Yds, 1 TD
Jackson – 3 Rec, 73 Yds, 1 TD
JuJu Smith – 3 Rec, 66 Yds
Dixon – 4 Rec, 44 Yds, 1 TD
Randall Telfer – 2 Rec, 18 Yds
Allen – 1 Rec, 16 Yds
Darreus Rogers – 2 Rec, 10 yds
George Farmer – 1 Rec, 4 Yds