- Johnny Curren, WeAreSC, Reporter
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LOS ANGELES – The 2013 roller-coaster ride for No. 25 USC (9-4) will reach its conclusion Saturday when the Trojans take on No. 20 Fresno State (11-1) in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.
USC will have its third head coach of the season -- interim coach Clay Helton, who will give way to Steve Sarkisian immediately following the contest – and the Trojans will need to fend off a talented Bulldogs squad that narrowly missed out on a BCS bowl.
Led by head coach Tim DeRuyter, the key to Fresno State’s success has been its prolific passing attack, spearheaded by quarterback Derek Carr, a projected top-10 pick in this May’s NFL draft.
Scoring: 45.3 points per game (No. 1 Mountain West, No. 5 overall)
Rushing: 162.7 yards per game (No. 9 MW, No. 70 overall)
Passing: 409.8 yards per game (No. 1 MW, No. 1 overall)
Total: 572.4 yards per game (No. 1 MW, No. 3 overall)
Quarterback: No. 4 Derek Carr (6-foot-3, 218 pounds, Sr.)
Recently named as the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, Carr has been nothing less than stellar while leading the Bulldogs’ vaunted uptempo, spread attack. The brother of former Fresno State star David Carr, Derek has completed 70.1 percent of his passes for a nation-best marks of 4,866 yards and 48 touchdowns, with just seven interceptions.
With the Bulldogs' passing game serving as the focal point of the offense, the running backs don’t necessarily put up big numbers, but both Quezada and Waller are efficient, each averaging more than five yards per carry. They also play an important role as receivers out of the backfield. Quezada has 48 receptions.
Carr has one of the nation’s most prolific wideouts at his disposal in Adams, who leads the FBS in both catches (122) and touchdown grabs (23), while ranking No. 2 in receiving yards (1,645). Harper, who is currently listed as questionable with a groin injury, has also gained more than 1,000 yards.
Jensen ranks No. 5 on the team with 24 receptions, and he’s a 2013 All-Mountain West second-team selection.
Offensive line: LT No. 72 Austin Wentworth (6-5, 306, Sr.), LG No. 60 Bo Bonnheim (6-2, 295, So.), C No. 56 Lars Bramer (6-5, 282, Sr.), RG No. 73 Cody Wichmann (6-6, 311, Jr.), RT No. 54 Justin Northern (6-5, 285, So.)
The Fresno State offensive line has done an outstanding job of protecting Carr, allowing an average of less than one sack per game. The sturdy Wentworth, who has started 42 games in his career, is the headliner at left tackle.
Scoring: 29.1 points per game (No. 4 MW, No. 80 overall)
Rushing: 147.7 yards per game (No. 3 MW, No. 40 overall)
Passing: 277.4 yards per game (No. 11 MW, No. 116 overall)
Total: 425.1 yards per game (No. 5 MW, No. 91 overall)
Fresno State’s defensive unit hasn’t matched the overall success that the offense has enjoyed, but one thing the Bulldogs have done well is get after the quarterback, averaging 3.25 sacks per game, tied for first in the FBS. Davison & Co. have played a big part, tying up the line so that the linebackers are free to make plays.
Ederaine, who lines up at outside linebacker, is the team’s most dangerous pass-rusher, racking up a team-best 10 sacks this season. Mickelsen paces the defense on the inside with 88 stops.
The secondary, as a whole, has struggled tremendously in coverage, allowing 277.4 yards per game through the air. Still, Smith has managed to put together a strong junior campaign with 69 tackles and also has led the Mountain West with six interceptions.
The Fresno State cornerbacks have been exploited by opposing passing attacks throughout the season. Jones is slated as the starter on one side, but he hasn’t played in more than a month because of a knee injury, and he’s currently listed as questionable. If he’s unable to play, either Jamal Ellis (knee) would start if he’s healthy enough, or Washington will slide over from safety, as he did against Utah State, with Dalen Jones starting at safety.
Punter: No. 49 Garrett Swanson (6-1, 213, So.)
Swanson has performed solidly, averaging 42.8 yards per punt.
Kicker: No. 19 Colin McGuire (5-10, 183, Fr.)
McGuire has been up and down in 2013, going 11 for 16 on field goals and has just 15 touchbacks on 85 kickoffs. The Bulldogs rank No. 111 nationally in kick return defense (24.4 yards allowed per return).
Kick returner: No. 8 Da’Mari Scott (6-0, 199, Fr.)
As a team, Fresno State averages 18.8 yards per kickoff return, ninth in the Mountain West.
Punt returner: No. 1 Isaiah Burse (6-0, 179, Sr.)
Burse is a big-play threat who has taken two punts back for touchdowns, averaging 12.5 yards per return.