5 Thoughts On The Holiday Bowl

Recap, 5 Thoughts and what's next for each team in the Holiday Bowl.

Dec. 27 National University Holiday Bowl
USC 45, Nebraska 42

And You Care Because … In a fun offensive shootout, Adoree Jackson returned a kickoff for a touchdown and took a pass 71 yards for a touchdown, and Javorius Allen scored on runs from two and 44 yards out for USC, but Nebraska wouldn’t go away. Ameer Abdullah ran for a 20-yard score and Tommy Armstrong threw three touchdown passes and ran for a 15-yard score on fourth down as the Huskers pulled within three late, but a final Hail Mary attempt was batted away.
What Else? Total yards: Nebraska 515 – USC 515
- USC QB Cody Kessler completed 23-of-39 passes for 321 yards and three scores with a pick
- Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah ran 27 times for 88 yards and a touchdown, and caught six passes for 61 yards. QB Tommy Armstrong completed 31-of-49 passes for 371 yards and three touchdowns with an interception, and ran 12 times for 41 yards and a score
- USC RB Javorius Allen ran 26 times for 152 yards and two touchdowns
Game Rating: A

By Rich Cirminiello
1. A team can win titles with junior Cody Kessler taking snaps behind center. And those titles could start coming as early as next season if USC can put it all together this offseason.

It was vintage Kessler tonight in San Diego, with the third-year starting piloting the Trojan offense with poise and precision. He’s exactly the kind of quarterback that a coach wants in the huddle; Kessler never gets rattled, rarely makes mistakes and consistently puts the ball inside his receivers’ catch-radius. He is a classic dart thrower, making those around him more effective at their own jobs.

As Kessler contemplates his future, fresh off a three-touchdown effort to help hold off a gutsy and inspired effort from Nebraska, he ought to consider what could be achieved in 2015. Yeah, he can further boost his draft stock, but he can also lead his Trojans a rung higher in the Pac-12 and national pecking order. Troy is littered with budding stars, like Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith, to name just two, and persistent depth concerns lessen with each additional recruiting class.

It was an up-and-down first year for head coach Steve Sarkisian. But it ended on a positive note … barely. Better days should be ahead for USC, especially if, as expected, No. 6 is the face of the team for one more year.

By Pete Fiutak
2. Let this be a bit of a lesson to teams – it’s okay to let it loose. Nebraska was under pressure all season long, and while the defense was subpar, and it didn’t do enough to get past USC, the offense got into a groove and made it interesting throughout. The Huskers proved they had speed on both sides of the ball, they proved that Tommy Armstrong can be a passer to potentially work the offense around, and they proved that they really were good, even if they couldn’t win the really, really big game. Bo Pelini might not have been able to get the job done to Nebraska’s satisfaction, but is Mike Riley going to be able to do more and get a better effort than Barney Cotton did? The whole point is that, yeah, Riley is supposed to do just that – and in a bowl bigger than the Holiday.

3. I know, I know, I know, USC is supposed to be great next year, even though it’ll lose several key players to the next level, but why do you think the program is suddenly going to start overachieving? Arizona State comes back loaded, UCLA will be great again, Arizona is fantastic, and Utah isn’t going to be bad – and that’s just the Pac-12 South. USC didn’t quite bring the 60-minute effort in every game, and that included the Holiday Bowl. There were too many lapses, too much of a reliance on the big play, and too many problems trying to put the game away. Steve Sarkisian cranked out a good first season, but nine wins doesn’t get it done. At least it didn’t for Bo Pelini at Nebraska.

4. What’s next for Nebraska
The Mike Riley era needs to hit the ground running with more from Tommy Armstrong at quarterback and without Ameer Abdullah to hand off to. Imani Cross and Terrell Newby will handle the rushing workload behind a good-looking line that should be able to overcome a few key losses, including guard Jake Cotton. De’Mornay Pierson-El is a dynamic receiver leading a good, strong corps that should improve as Armstrong gets more and more comfortable.

The much-maligned defense comes back loaded with experience up front, even with Randy Gregory ready to jump to the NFL and with linebackers Zaire Anderson and Trevor Roach gone. The secondary loses corner Josh Mitchell and safety Corey Cooper, but big-hitting Nate Gerry is back at one safety spot. P Sam Foltz is a good one, returning after averaging close to 42 yards per kick. The placekicking needs some help, needing Drew Brown to be more consistent in his sophomore year.

5. What’s next for USC
The depth is coming back to go along with the outstanding speed and talent across the board. QB Cody Kessler has the potential to be among the best in America, but he’ll almost certainly lose Nelson Agholor early to the NFL. He’ll get everyone else of note back including rising all-around star Adoree Jackson, who’ll need the ball in his hands far, far more on offense. Even if Buck Allen jumps to the big leagues a year early, there are options and possibilities in the running game behind a line that should get all five starters back.

The defense will lose players to the pros – DE Leonard Williams should be a top five overall pick – and will go on without LB Hayes Pullard and FS Gerald Bowman, but Leon McQuay appears ready to become a star, and Su’a Cravens is a special linebacker. Excellent PK Andre Heidari is gone, but P Kris Albarado is solid.


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