With Nebraska’s former coach playing a a supporting role in the game’s television storyline, it was USC that grabbing hold of the first-half advantage, ofttimes in spite of itself.
Despite shooting itself in the foot on multiple occasions, the Trojans were able to overcome those mistakes and take a 24-17 lead after two quarters of play in the National University Holiday Bowl. Neither team led by more than seven points at any point in the first half, with the lead changing hands on three different occasions and tied two other.
Were it not for multiple miscues, though, the Trojans could’ve easily seen a double-digit halftime lead.
USC was flagged a whopping nine times for 72 yards, including three 15-yarders. Two of those were called on All-American defensive end Leonard Williams on back-to-back plays. The Holiday Bowl record, incidentally, is 12.
Additionally, USC defensive backs dropped at least three potential interceptions.
The Trojans defense did play well overall, though, as they held the Cornhuskers to 187 yards of total offense. The ‘Huskers, one of the top rushing teams in the country, averaged just 1.5 yards per carry; they came into the game averaging 5.5 ypc. They also held onto and picked off a pass late in the half that kept NU from putting at least three points on the scoreboard.
Tommie Armstrong did toss a pair of touchdown passes for the ‘Huskers, while Adoree’ Jackson returned a kick 98 yards for USC’s first points of the day.
One of the more interesting aspects of the first half — and leading up to the game — was the obvious and very public support the Nebraska football players and coaching staff still maintain for Bo Pelini. On the ride over to the stadium, a seat was left empty in honor of the dismissed head coach. In a pregame speech, interim head coach Barney Cotton told the players to play for “God, teammates and Bo Pelini.”
During the game, several players gave visual shoutouts to their former sideline boss.