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Holiday Bowl has history of offensive surprises, records

12/22/2014

There's going to be a lot of offensive firepower on the field Saturday for the National University Holiday Bowl between the USC Trojans and Nebraska Cornhuskers (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), and it's the type of collection of talent that should continue the bowl's reputation for being a game that usually features a lot of excitement.

It didn't take long for the Holiday Bowl to put up big numbers either, as the 1979 game (only the second in its existence) saw 874 yards of total offense between the two teams as Indiana -- coached by Lee "Not So Fast, My Friend" Corso -- defeated BYU by a score of 38-37.

It was the 1980 game, however, which really served notice that the San Diego-hosted bowl could be something unique. The Cougars of BYU were involved once again, this time against the Pony Express backfield of Eric Dickerson and Craig James and the SMU Mustangs. SMU was up 45-25 late in the game before Jim McMahon led BYU on a touchdown drive, the Cougars recovered an onside kick and scored again, then blocked an SMU punt and hit a Hail Mary to pull out the dramatic 46-45 victory. McMahon (446 passing yards and four TDs) and James (225 rushing yards and two TDs) were named Co-Offensive Most Valuable Players of the Game.

McMahon came back in 1981 to throw for 342 yards and three touchdowns as the Cougars beat Washington State 38-36. The defensive MVP that day for BYU was current Utah coach Fred Whittingham.

The 1984 game was an important milestone for the bowl as BYU clinched the national championship with a 24-17 victory over Michigan, behind 343 passing yards from Robbie Bosco.

After so many years of quarterback heroics it was a return to the running game in 1988 when Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State rushed for 222 yards and a bowl-record five touchdowns in a 62-14 victory over Wyoming. Sanders sat out the fourth quarter, which prevented him from breaking Craig James' bowl rushing record. Current OSU coach Mike Gundy threw for 315 yards while Hart Lee Dykes caught 10 passes for a then bowl-record 163 yards.

It was another future Heisman winner -- Ty Detmer from BYU -- who brought the attention back to the air in 1989 by setting Holiday Bowl records for completing 42 of 59 passes for 576 yards but it was in a losing effort to Penn State, who was led by Blair Thomas with a bowl-record 35 carries for 186 yards. Detmer was knocked out of the game early with a shoulder injury in 1990 (the year he won the Heisman) in a 65-14 loss to Texas A&M but he came back to throw for 350 yards in a 1991 tie against Iowa 13-13, which was the first tie and the lowest scoring Holiday Bowl.

In recent years, the tradition of offense has been kept alive by players such as Marshawn Lynch with 111 rushing yards and a pair of scores in 2006, Colt McCoy with 321 all-purpose yards in 2007 or Dez Bryant with bowl record 13 catches for 168 yards in 2008.

USC tight ends coach Marques Tuiasosopo was part of a memorable Holiday Bowl in 1999 as quarterback of the Washington Huskies. Tuiasosopo had Washington in the lead late in the game and driving for a score when he threw an interception, the game turned, and Kansas State eventually won 24-20. Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian knows what it's like to coach in the game, he brought his Huskies to San Diego in 2010 where they beat Nebraska 19-7 behind 177 rushing yards from Chris Polk.

With such a strong tradition of performances on the offensive side of the ball, don't be surprised at all if Trojans Cody Kessler, Buck Allen and Nelson Agholor or Cornhuskers' Tommy Armstrong, Ameer Abdullah or Kenny Bell are the ones making similar memories in this edition of the game.