By Tim Peterson
(San Diego) -Cody Kessler threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns and Javorius “Buck” Allen ran for 152 yards and a pair of scores to lead USC to a 45-42 win over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl Saturday night at Qualcomm Stadium.
Offense was the theme of the evening but it was the Trojans’ defense that made the stop with 2:31 left in the contest when Leon McQuay III tackled Cornhusker receiver De’Mornay Person-El after a one yard gain. USC had to punt one more time but there was only 17 seconds left when Nebraska got the ball back and time ran out. Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. threw a hail Mary pass with one second left but Nelson Agholor knocked the ball down.
Adoree Jackson scored twice for the Trojans including a 98-yard kick off return that gave USC a 7-3 lead in the first quarter. Jackson had three catches for 73 yards and a touchdown. Allen scored on a two-yard run in the second quarter to put USC up 24-17 and also a 44-yard jaunt that made it 38-24 Trojans. Allen, a junior who is considering turning pro, had 26 carries on the night.
Agholor was Kessler’s favorite target haling in seven passes for 90 yards and a 17-yard score in the second quarter. Nebraska kept coming back all night behind quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. and running back Ameer Abdullah. Armstrong threw TD strikes to Kenny Bell and Pierson-El in the first half to keep the Huskers within 24-17. Su’a Cravens intercepted Armstrong late in the second quarter.
The two teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter. Jackson got loose for a 71-yard touchdown reception and Abdullah broke off a 20-yard TD run for Nebraska to make it 31-24. USC went up 38-24 but a blocked punt led to a Nebraska field goal. The Trojans looked like they were in control when Kessler hit Bryce Dixon for a 20 yard touchdown pass with 2:03 left in the third quarter for a 45-27 advantage. But the Huskers immediately answered with a 65 yard catch and run by Jordan Westerkemp just before the end of the third to make it 45-34.
Armstrong hit the corner and scored on a quarterback keeper with 6;52 left in the game. A two point conversion on a pass from Armstrong to Bell cut the USC margin to a precarious three. The Trojans didn’t score the rest of the way but still had just enough to hold on.
Abdullah, who had over 1500 yards rushing coming into the game, finished with 99 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. He also caught six passes for 61 yards. Pierson-El was the Huskers’ leading receiver with eight receptions for 102 yards. Armstrong threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 57 yards and a score.
Drew Brown kicked a pair of field goals for Nebraska while Andre Heidari booted a 42-yarder in the first quarter for USC.
Freshman JuJu Smith had three catches for 66 yards, including a 45 yarder in the third quarter that set up the touchdown pass Dixon.
USC finished 9-4 under first year head coach Steve Sarkisian while Nebraska also ended the year at 9-4. the Cornhuskers played the game under interim coach Barney Cotton who took over for the fired Bo Pelini.