To say that the Pac-12 has seen a successful start to the 2014-15 postseason would be significant understatement.
Utah kicked off the conference’s bowl season with a win over Colorado State Dec. 20. Arizona State followed that up with a win over Duke earlier Saturday. Next up was USC, and the Trojans didn’t disappoint. Barely.
After taking a seven-point lead into halftime, USC (9-4) stretched its lead to 18 points at one point before hanging on for dear life and heading home with a 45-42 win over Nebraska (9-4) in the Holiday Bowl. With 4:03 left in the third quarter, the Trojans’ lead was a seemingly comfortable 45-27; the Cornhuskers, led by interim head coach Barney Cotton, did not go quietly into the San Diego night, however.
A 65-yard Tommie Armstrong touchdown pass late in the third quarter and an Armstrong 15-yard touchdown run — and two-point conversion — with 6:52 remaining cut the Trojans’ lead to 45-42. Unfortunately, at least as far as the ‘Huskers are concerned, a failed fourth-down attempt ended their second-to-last drive at the Trojans 30-yard line with 2:31 remaining. Cotton, likely rightly so, eschewed what would’ve been a 47-/48-yard field goal attempt that would’ve tied the game if successful; kicker Drew Brown‘s long make this season was 44 yards, and he was 2-of-6 from 40-49 yards overall.
The Trojans were forced to punt on their subsequent possession and the Cornhuskers got the ball at their own 32-yard line with :17 seconds remaining. A Hail Mary on a play that began at the Nebraska 44-yard line was knocked away.
Explosive plays on both offense and special teams played a pivotal role in the Trojans’ second consecutive bowl win and sixth in their last seven — or at least stretching out the lead far enough that they could ultimately hang on.
Adoree’ Jackson opened up the scoring for the Trojans by returning a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, then followed that up with a third-quarter receiving touchdown that covered 71 yards. Four minutes after the latter score, Buck Allen went 44 yards for a score that pushed USC to a 38-24 lead.
Jackson, a true freshman, was named the Player of the Game after accounting for 204 all-purpose yards while also putting in time at cornerback.
Cody Kessler, who announced after the win that he’ll be returning for his senior season,passed for 321 yards and three touchdowns in the win. It was his seventh 300-yard game of the season. Armstrong, meanwhile, passed for a career-high 381 yards and three touchdowns. The performance marked the first time Armstrong has eclipsed 300 yards in a single game.
Hit total offense output of 422 yards set a Nebraska bowl record, as did his passing yardage.
The two teams combined for 1,040 yards of offense, 525 for the Cornhuskers and 515 for the Trojans. USC also tied a Holiday Bowl record with 12 penalties.
With the Trojans’ win, the Pac-12 is the only conference that’s played more than one bowl game that’s undefeated. The SEC is 1-0 after playing its first postseason game Saturday, while the Big 12 won’t play its first bowl game until Monday afternoon (West Virginia vs. Texas A&M in the Liberty Bowl).
The Big Ten, meanwhile, saw its mark dip to 2-2, although, given the fact that many thought the league could toss-up a doughnut as all 10 conference members were/are underdogs, that’s quite the positive start.