The USC Trojans (10-4) defeated the Fresno State Bulldogs (11-2), 45-20.
Quarterback Cody Kessler threw for 344 yards and four touchdowns. Buck Allen also added 75 yards and two touchdowns on the ground for the Trojans.
In defeat, Fresno State was only able to muster 254 yards of total offense. Famed quarterback Derek Carr threw for 217 yards, almost 200 yards below his season average.
Let's take a look at 10 things we learned in the Trojans' win over the Bulldogs.
Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor make up the most explosive wide receiver duo in the entire country. Against Fresno State, the twosome demonstrated this sentiment completely.
Lee finished Saturday (and perhaps his USC career) with seven catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns. He was absolutely lethal on crossing routes and yards after the catch in this contest. Fresno State had no answer for the dynamic receiver out of Serra High School.
Not to be outdone, Agholor had five catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns of his own. He made a great catch on his second touchdown grab, literally pinning the ball to his left shoulder pad as he got his feet inbounds.
Each has the ability to take a short pass and turn it into a huge play on any given moment. With Lee likely leaving for the NFL, all of the attention will likely be centered on Agholor next season.
Fresno State came very close to snatching an at-large BCS Bowl bid.
Truthfully, the Bulldogs did not deserve to play in such a game.
The 11-2 record is very deceiving when one delves into the complete body of work. Fresno State didn't play any decent teams throughout the season.
USC was by far the most talented team on the schedule for the Bulldogs. Although USC is depleted from a tangible-body standpoint, the talent levels between the two sides wasn't even close.
Derek Carr, Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse are very talented players. Collectively, the depth and quality overall just isn't there.
USC's signal-caller was outstanding on the afternoon.
Kessler threw a career-high four touchdowns on the day. He ended up with 344 yards passing on 22-of-30 attempts. The four touchdown throws also set a record for the Las Vegas Bowl.
Perhaps most impressive was Kessler's awareness in the pocket. He bought time with his feet, evading defenders while looking down the field and making the requisite throws. When flushed from the pocket, he picked up yards in chunks and looked mildly elusive whilst doing so.
There's no denying the improvement from the beginning of the season to now for the quarterback. He's been playing with a ton of confidence. It'll be interesting to see how he figures into the mix next season in the quarterback competition with Steve Sarkisian coming on board.
At worst, Kessler should go into next year as the favorite to win the job.
We learned this tidbit during the telecast of the contest.
Sarkisian has chosen to keep Clay Helton on his staff as the offensive coordinator, according to the LA Daily News, per Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports. There have been conflicting reports, and one does have Helton coming back potentially as the tight ends coach, according to the LA Daily News, via Ryan Abraham of USCFootball.com.
It would be an interesting dynamic, considering that Sarkisian was the play-caller at the University of Washington.
There's no doubt the implementation of Helton as the offensive coordinator this season has paid dividends. Since the dismissal of Lane Kiffin, Kessler's effectiveness has gone up dramatically. Helton's play-calling has also been dynamic. He's looked to open up the field vertically and has not been entirely conventional nor predictable.
There's no question Helton is a big reason as to why Kessler has developed at a rapid pace.
Nelson Agholor is a future star.
The sophomore from Tampa has all of the tools to become a premier wideout from a national standpoint. He's equipped with tremendous speed and physicality. When running in space, Agholor is incredibly fluid. It's almost as if he's glides down the field effortlessly.
Against Fresno State, he constantly got behind the defense. His catch on the second touchdown was a thing of beauty. He managed to pin the ball on his left shoulder pad (while being held) and still managed to get both feet in bounds.
With Lee likely to leave for the NFL, Agholor will take the mantle as the top receiver on the team—and perhaps also in the conference.
USC came into the contest without starting guard Aundrey Walker and All-Conference performer Marcus Martin.
No one really knew how USC would respond without the core of its offensive line. Against Fresno State, the patchwork unit banded together and performed very well. The Trojans rushed for a solid 143 yards on the day.
More importantly, Kessler had time to throw the football. There was never really a point in which the signal-caller was pressured. The line did a fantastic job of protecting its quarterback for the duration of the night. Kudos go to sixth-year senior Abe Markowitz. The former walk-on stepped in for Martin at center and did an admirable job.
If this was indeed Lee's last game as a Trojan, he had a fantastic career.
Lee caught a school-record 118 passes last year and won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver. He's only five catches shy of the all-time record for most receptions for a USC receiver. The record is currently held by his former high school and college teammate Robert Woods.
The wide receiver from Serra High School is electric. That's the most apropos adjective when describing his game play. There's not another receiver—perhaps in the country—who can turn on a dime and make something happen out of nothing.
If he does leave, Lee will go down as one of the best to ever play at the university.
It would have been easy for USC to tank in this game. In fact, it was expected by a lot of people.
Despite the 11-1 record heading into the game, Fresno State isn't exactly a big-name opponent. The Trojans likely were not pleased by playing in a lower bowl game. The emotional roller coaster of losing two head coaches and playing for a third couldn't have been a comfortable situation to undertake.
In essence, it wouldn't have been a shock to see USC go through the proverbial motions in this game.
With all of that said, the Trojans came out and dominated. Give credit to Helton, Clancy Pendergast and the rest of the Trojans staff for getting the squad to play with emotion and purpose.
Another individual that deserves a ton of credit is Ed Orgeron. As one can see above, the players adore the man. Many of the team members even paid tribute to "Coach O" with their uniforms' accessories.
The overall numbers on the roster may be down, but the cupboard isn't bare.
Sarkisian will walk into a situation with good talent to work with. Quality offensive skill position players will be available next season at all positions. Defensively, Leonard Williams will return. He's easily one of the top defensive linemen in the country.
The real question will be whether or not many of the underclassmen return to school.
George Uko, Dion Bailey, Josh Shaw, Hayes Pullard, Marqise Lee, Marcus Martin, Aundrey Walker and Xavier Grimble theoretically can all leave early for the NFL.
If even half of those players do opt to return, it'd be a gigantic boon for Sarkisian and his staff.