SAN DIEGO—The Holiday Bowl has traditionally been a shootout. This year was no different. Almost 100 points scored; almost 1100 yards total offense. Each scoring drive was shorter than a Britney Spears single.
What was different was a close USC football game that didn’t end in a loss for the Trojans.
Three of the four previous Trojan losses were by a total of 13 points. Two of those losses were on the last play of the game. This time, the Trojans held on to close out a game, defeating a very determined and very emotional Nebraska Cornhuskers’ football team 45-42 in the National University Holiday Bowl.
The ‘Huskers were playing without head coach Bo Pelini, who was fired at the end of this past regular season. The firing upset several players, who honored Pelini with his name written on various visible parts of their game uniform. Associate head coach Barney Cotton took over the team to coach the ‘Huskers in the Holiday Bowl. Next season Nebraska will be coached by former Oregon State head coach Mike Riley.
The fireworks began less than five minutes into the game. After Nebraska scored first on a 34-yard field goal by Drew Brown, USC’s Andree’ Jackson returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a Trojan touchdown to put USC in front 7-3.
Nebraska marched down the field on their next possession and scored on an 18-yard pass from Tommy Armstrong Jr. to Kenny Bell. The Cornhuskers thought they scored when offensive lineman Alex Lewis caught a pass behind the line of scrimmage and lumbered into the endzone but the play was ruled a forward pass to an ineligible receiver. Bell scored two plays later to give the ‘Huskers the lead 10-7.
After a 42-yard field goal by USC’s Andre Heidari, Nebraska scored on a 9-yard pass play from Armstrong Jr. to De’Morney Piersol-El. The ‘Huskers were up 17-10 at the end of the first quarter.
During the next 18 minutes, Nebraska forgot how to move the ball. The result was 21 unanswered points by USC. The two scoring drives in the second quarter were both 10 plays or more and at least 75 yards. The Trojans second possession of the third quarter on took one play, a 71-yard pass from Cody Kessler to Jackson. Nebraska found the will to not give up and answered with a 20-yard touchdown run by Ameer Abdullah. Not to be outdone, the Trojans scored on their next possession with a 44-yard run by Javorius Allen. USC lead the ‘Huskers 38-24.
Special teams played a big part in tonight’s game. The Nebraska defense were close to blocking a USC punt all night. On the next USC series, they finally got one. Nebraska’s Kieron Williams blocked Kris Albarado’s punt, giving the ‘Huskers the ball at USC’s 16-yard line. However, they couldn’t get the ball into the endzone and had to settle for a field goal, cutting the score to 38-27 in favor of USC.
The Trojans made Nebraska pay for the missed opportunity. Brice Dixon caught a 20-yard pass from Kessler with 2:03 left in the third quarter. The touchdown gave the Trojans a 45-27 lead.
Feeling pressure from the game clock, the ‘Huskers scored with 24 seconds left in the third quarter on a 65-yard pass from Armstrong Jr. to Jordan Westerkamp. It was Westerkamp who became an internet sensation earlier in the year after catching a deflected pass behind his back while staying inbounds. USC’s lead was now under 10 points.
Both teams were unable to move the ball until Nebraska scored with 6:52 left in the game. The ‘Huskers used a mix of run and pass plays to keep the Trojans defense on their heels. After Terrell Newby was stuffed at the USC 15 for no gain on third and 2, Armstrong Jr. ran up the middle right of the field for a touchdown on fourth down. The 2-point conversion pass to Bell was good and Nebraska was within a field goal of tying the game.
USC was twice unable to move the ball, giving Nebraska one more chance to beat the Trojans. A personal foul on the punt return gave the Huskers first-and-10 from their 32 yard-line with 19 seconds left. Nebraska was then called for a false start, knocking them back to the 27. Armstrong Jr. was able to move the team to their 44-yard line with one second left. Armstrong’s Hail Mary was knocked out of bounds to end the game.
Kessler completed 23 of 49 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns. He was intercepted once. Allen scored two touchdowns on 26 carries and 152 yards. Nelson Agholor caught seven passes for 90 yards and a touchdown. Dixon caught four passes for 44 yards and a touchdown. Jackson and JuJu Smith each had three receptions; Jackson gained 73 yards and a touchdown. Jackson are had 130 return yards and a touchdown. Smith gained 66 yards.
Armstrong Jr. completed 31 of 49 pass attempts for 371 yards and three touchdowns. He also was picked off once. Armstrong ran the ball 12 times for 41 yards and a touchdown. Abdullah carried the ball 27 times for 88 yards and a touchdown. He also had six receptions for 61 yards. Abdullah also gain 120 yards on kickoff returns. Six other receivers caught passes tonight. The leading receivers were Pierson-El, who had eight receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown, Bell, who had seven catches for 71 yards and a touchdown, and Westerkamp, who gained 81 yards on three catches.
Both teams finished 9-4. USC came into this game ranked #24.