Javorius Allen with Steve Sarkisian
Dec. 19, 2014
USC Bowl Guide
Two of the nation’s most storied college football programs—No. 24-ranked USC and No. 25 Nebraska—will face off in the Holiday Bowl for an ESPN prime-time post-Christmas contest. Troy, one of the nation’s premier bowl teams, has won two-thirds of its 48 bowl appearances (including 7 of the past 8) and played in 13 different bowls, but this will be the Trojans’ first-ever Holiday Bowl visit. Nebraska, which has won half of its 50 bowl appearances, will be making its fourth Holiday Bowl trip, including its third since 2009. These traditional football powers, who between them have won 16 national championships and produced 9 Heisman Trophy winners, will be meeting for just the fifth time ever (USC has never lost), but the first time in a bowl. USC has won its last 12 games against Big Ten teams, including victories in its last 7 bowl meetings versus the conference. This will be only the seventh time that USC has played a game in San Diego, which is just a 2-hour drive from Troy’s Los Angeles campus, and the Trojans last visited there in 1992. USC head coach Steve Sarkisian, however, is familiar with the Holiday Bowl and the Cornhuskers, having guided his Washington team to a victory over NU in the 2010 Holiday Bowl (several Trojan assistants also have coached in the bowl and one even played in it). USC has had about 70 lettermen in its history hail from San Diego, including Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen and All-American Cotton Warburton, and one famous Trojan alumnus was a noted news anchorman in the city. Both teams enter the game with similar records and both had some close losses (3 of USC’s were by a total of 13 points, including 2 on the opponents’ final play, while 2 of NU’s were by less than a touchdown). For comparison’s sake, both USC and Nebraska faced—and handily defeated—Fresno State earlier this season. Nebraska, however, is in transition right now, much like USC was in its bowl game last season, as head coach Bo Pelini was released after the regular season and assistant Barney Cotton will be the Cornhuskers’ interim head coach in the bowl. Waiting in the NU wings is new head coach Mike Riley, the former Oregon State head coach and one-time USC assistant. USC, coming off a dominant win over intersectional rival Notre Dame, features an up-tempo offense that is highly ranked nationally in a number of passing categories and a strong defense that is in the national Top 25 in red zone defense, turnover margin and third down conversion defense. USC has outscored foes by 121 points in the first quarter and has yet to allow an opponent to score on its opening possession this season. QB Cody Kessler, a finalist for the Unitas Golden Arm Award and Manning Award who is having the most efficient season ever by a Trojan quarterback, is among the nation’s leaders in passing efficiency, completion percentage, TD passes, completions and passing yards while hitting over 70% of his throws with 36 TDs and just 4 interceptions. All-Pac-12 first team TB Javorius Allen, a 1,000-yard runner who has 8 100-yard rushing outings this year, leads the league in all-purpose yards and is the only player in the nation with 12 games of 100-plus yards from scrimmage. WR Nelson Agholor, also an All-Pac-12 first teamer who has even earned All-American notice, is on the verge of 100 catches this year while ranking in the national Top 11 in receptions, receiving yards and receiving TDs (he also has a school-record 4 career scoring punt returns). The young Trojan offensive line, with 3 true freshman starters, is led by All-Pac-12 first team C Max Tuerk. USC’s defense is headlined by 2-time All-American first team DE Leonard Williams, along with ILB Hayes Pullard, who will be the first Trojan in 35 years to lead USC in tackles for 3 seasons (he has 369 career stops), and All-Pac-12 first team S-turned-OLB Su’a Cravens, a Sophomore All-American first teamer who has 16 tackles for a loss this year (no defensive back in the nation has more) and 6 career picks. USC has had to rely on numerous true freshmen because of depth issues (11 have played significantly, with 8 who have combined for 52 starts), including a quartet of Freshman All-American first teamers in Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year CB-WR-RET Adoree’ Jackson (he has played 3 ways in 7 games this year and is among the nation’s leading kickoff returners), OG-now-OT Toa Lobendahn, OG Viane Talamaivao and WR JuJu Smith (51 receptions in 2014). No more than 57 recruited scholarship Trojans have suited up for any game in 2014 because of NCAA-mandated scholarship limitations. Nebraska, which won in overtime at Iowa in its last game, features an offense that is in the national Top 20 in rushing and scoring and a defense that is especially stingy against the pass. I-back Ameer Abdullah, a 2014 Doak Walker Award finalist who ran for 200 yards 4 times this season as he became the school’s all-time leader in all-purpose yards and is second in rushing yards, is in the national Top 15 in rushing (1,523 yards), rushing TDs (18), all-purpose yards and scoring. Elusive QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. directs the offensive attack, throwing for 2,314 yards with 19 TDs and running for 664 yards with another 5 scores. His top targets are WR Kenny Bell, the school’s career leader in receptions and receiving yards who earned All-Big Ten first team honors this season, soph WR Jordan Westerkamp and freshman WR De’Mornay Pierson-El, who is third nationally in punt returns while tying for the national lead in scoring punt returns (3). The Cornhusker defense is led by 2-time All-Big Ten first team DE Randy Gregory, along with leading tackler LB Zaire Anderson and soph S Nate Gerry, who is 18th nationally in interceptions.
THE LAST MEETING
September 15, 2007
No. 1 USC Runs Past No. 14 Nebraska
Top-ranked Southern California ran through, around and all over Nebraska. The Trojans (2-0) piled up 313 yards rushing and won for the 61st time in 67 games.