Heading into Saturday afternoon's Las Vegas Bowl, the quarterback advantage was thought to firmly be on the side of the Fresno State Bulldogs. Bulldogs quarterback Derek Carr led the nation in several passing categories during the season, while USC Trojans signal-caller Cody Kessler had struggled at times during Southern Cal's tumultuous season.
Saturday, the tables were turned, as Kessler had an excellent game while Carr struggled in USC's 45-20 blowout win.
The two teams traded touchdowns early, with Kessler and Carr each finding their targets for scores -- but Fresno State's extra point was blocked, giving the Trojans an early advantage. USC was eager to prove they didn't need the slight difference, scoring 28 straight points with three Kessler touchdown tosses to make the game 35-6 heading into halftime.
Carr found his favorite target, Davante Adams, for a 23-yard score to start out the second half, cutting the Trojan lead to 22 points. Andre Heidari hit a third-quarter field goal for USC to advance the Trojans' lead to 38-13. Early in the fourth quarter, though, Derron Smith picked off Kessler and returned the interception 41 yards, diving into the end zone to make the deficit 38-20 and keep the Bulldogs' hopes alive.
USC ensured the comeback effort fell short, as Kessler's strong play led them to another touchdown drive with less than five minutes to play, sealing the deal at 45-20. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton, serving as interim head coach, becomes the third Trojans coach of the year to win a game, and he's reportedly a hot commodity on the coaching market.
Box Score Hero: Cody Kessler. The quarterback struggled with inconsistency this season, but completed 22 of 31 passes for 344 yards and four touchdowns on the day.
Rankings Ramifications: Fresno State came into the game ranked No. 20, while USC was ranked No. 25. The Bulldogs will likely find themselves out of the final poll, while USC might finish in the top 20 after an up-and-down season.
But Did They Cover? USC was a 4.5-point favorite, so yes.