Inspired Trojans Defeat Fresno State in the 22nd Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl

By W.G. Ramirez
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl

Three different coaches, including one for the final game of the season?

No problem.

Southern California ended its season with a 45-20 blowout win over 21st-ranked Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Cody Kessler passed for 344 yards and a bowl-record four touchdowns in USC's win over the Bulldogs under interim coach Clay Helton, the team's third head coach in less than three months.

Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor hauled in two touchdown catches apiece, while Javorius Allen rushed two more scores.

"Just really proud of our football team, proud for the Trojan family," Helton said. "We came into this game wanting to make the Trojan family proud and I can't tell you how excited I am about the accomplishments they made."

The Trojans (10-4) earned their first postseason victory since 2009, while Fresno State still hasn't won a bowl game since 2007, having lot six of its last seven.

Derek Carr passed for a mere 217 yards and two touchdowns in his final game at Fresno State (11-2).

"I felt we were prepared, I thought the coach did a great job with the practices, the curfews - all those things," said Carr, the nation's leader in yards passing and total offense. "I thought our guys were ready to go. There wasn't any lack of focus on any side of the ball during practice. USC just beat us."

USC beat the Bulldogs, soundly, opening up a 35-6 halftime lead and defending Fresno State's attempt at a second half comeback.

And while Kessler outplayed his close friend Carr, he set a Las Vegas Bowl record for touchdown passes before halftime while finishing 22 for 30. USC made its statement in the second quarter, scoring three touchdowns over a nine-minute span.

Kessler threw for 243 yards and set the Las Vegas Bowl single-game record for TD passes in the first half alone, but USC's defense perhaps was even more spectacular against the nation's top passing offense.

Despite finishing his collegiate career without a bowl victory, Carr became the fourth player in NCAA history to surpass 5,000 yards passing and 50 TD passes during the game.

"Derek is a great quarterback, but that is what our defense has done all year," Kessler said. "Our defense is so good at stopping the run, stopping the pass, confusing teams. It makes a good quarterback frustrated. I see it everyday at practice.

Carr, who finished 30 for 54, faced constant pressure from Trojans, whose sizzling blitzing schemes negated Fresno State's running game and twice stifled the Bulldogs on fourth downs in the first half.

"Physically, they were the most impressive team we've played the last two years," Fresno coach Tim DeRuter said. "I think we were beaten by a better team today. I think if we would have played our best game, it may have been a different outcome, but today clearly they were better. They play inspired; they played very, very well.

"Early on we had a couple opportunities on third down to get off the field, it could have changed the game and they converted. Defensively we didn't make enough tackles."

The 42,178 in attendance was the second-highest for Sam Boyd Stadium and for any Las Vegas Bowl.