- Johnny Curren, WeAreSC, Reporter
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A look at the positives and negatives from No. 25 USC’s 45-20 victory over No. 20 Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.
1. USC defense
Clancy Pendergast’s defense came up with one its most dominating performances of the season, limiting a Bulldogs passing offense that entered the contest averaging an FBS-best 409.8 yards per game, to just 217 yards. With the Trojans defensive front applying constant pressure, Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr never quite got in a rhythm, completing just 55 percent (29-of-54) of his passes -- well below the 70.1 completion percentage that he came into the game with. Cornerbacks Josh Shaw and Kevon Seymour, meanwhile, were both solid in coverage for the most part. Shaw made his fourth interception of the season, while Seymour racked up a team-high seven stops. Also deserving mention is Safety Dion Bailey, who was a disruptive force that Carr and Co. had to be mindful of throughout the game.
2. USC passing game
Trojans signal-caller Cody Kessler came out on fire, finishing the day having completing 22 of 30 passes for a career-high 344 yards and four touchdown passes -- all of which came in the first half -- with one interception. A healthy Marqise Lee had his most impressive outing of the year in what might have been his final game as a Trojan, pulling down seven passes for a season-high 118 yards and two touchdowns. Fellow receiver Nelson Agholor had two scores of his own, and the outstanding pass-blocking effort by the USC offensive line shouldn’t be ignored either, and it was spearheaded by sixth-year senior center Abe Markowitz.
Recently named the Trojans’ team MVP for the 2013 campaign, Allen capped his season off with another strong showing, highlighted by two rushing touchdowns. Compiling 87 yards on the ground, the third-year sophomore tailback amassed an additional 33 yards on four receptions. His one-yard scoring run with under five minutes remaining in the contest sealed the win for the Trojans.
1. USC second-half lapse
Leading 35-6 at halftime, USC appeared to be on the verge of sending the subs in early in this one, but then Fresno State stormed back, making it a 38-20 ballgame early in the fourth quarter. The comeback was made possible, in part, by a Trojans offense that appeared out of sync for much of the second half, as well as a series of mistakes which included a lost fumble by Nelson Agholor on a punt return, a sure-fire interception dropped by Seymour in the end zone and a pick-six thrown by Kessler. Fortunately for the Trojans, they eventually regrouped, with a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive late in the fourth quarter serving as the exclamation point, they emerged with the victory.
Committing an average of 6.5 penalties per game as a team heading into Saturday’s contest, the Trojans far exceeded that number against the Bulldogs, drawing 11 flags for 98 yards. George Uko’s unsportsmanlike conduct foul and resulting ejection for contact with an official was the most perplexing and avoidable infraction.
3. USC run blocking
USC finished with a somewhat respectable 143 yards on the ground, but they averaged just 3.2 yards per carry -- a direct reflection of the production of the offensive line. While they did a more-than solid job of protecting Kessler in the passing game, the Trojans line struggled to open up rushing lanes against a very physical Bulldogs defensive front, making it difficult for Allen, Ty Isaac and Soma Vainuku to find room to run.
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