No. 21 Fresno State loses Las Vegas Bowl to USC

Just a few weeks after Fresno State appeared poised for a BCS

trip and a breakthrough season, the Bulldogs ended up busted in

Vegas.

Derek Carr didn’t attempt to hide his disappointment when his

college career ended with a 45-20 loss to Southern California in

the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday.

The record-setting quarterback also wouldn’t allow one loss to

erase every good memory from a landmark season in Fresno State

history.

”I thought our guys were ready to go,” Carr said. ”There

wasn’t any lack of focus on any side of the ball. USC just beat

us.”

Carr passed for just 217 yards and two TDs under constant

pressure in his final game at Fresno State (11-2), which fell

behind 35-6 at halftime. With their fifth straight bowl defeat, the

Bulldogs failed to secure the first 12-win season in school

history.

Right down to the script ”Bulldogs” on the helmet, Fresno

State wore the same uniform combination sported by the team that

beat USC in the 1992 Freedom Bowl, one of the biggest wins in

school history. But the Mountain West champions still haven’t won a

bowl game since 2007, losing six of their last seven.

”I think if you look at the body of work, this team won 11

ballgames and won a second straight conference championship,”

Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter said. ”There’s critics out there.

Everyone has got an opinion. I know in my heart we had a really,

really fine football team. We didn’t play our best game today, and

that goes on me. I’ve got to do a better job of getting our guys

ready.”

Cody Kessler passed for a career-high 344 yards and a

bowl-record four touchdowns for the Trojans and interim coach Clay

Helton, the third of USC’s four head coaches in less than three

months.

Kessler outdid Carr, his fellow Bakersfield native and friend,

setting the Las Vegas Bowl record for TD passes before halftime and

finishing 22 for 30. USC scored three touchdowns in a nine-minute

burst in the second quarter, and Javorius Allen clinched it with

his second TD run with 4:44 to play.

Carr went 30 for 54 under constant pressure from the blitzing

Trojans, who eliminated Fresno State’s running game and twice

stopped the Bulldogs on fourth downs in the first half. Fresno

State’s two TD catches by Isaiah Burse and Davante Adams both came

on short drives resulting from USC mistakes on special teams, and

Derron Smith returned an interception 41 yards for a touchdown.

Carr, the nation’s leader in yards passing and total offense,

became the fourth player in NCAA history to surpass 5,000 yards

passing and 50 TD passes during the game. But Carr leaves Fresno

State without a bowl victory, never getting the Bulldogs moving

against one of the nation’s best pass defenses.

”Blame me. Blame me always,” Carr said. ”I’ve got to do a

better job of leading, and I’ve got to do a better job of getting

our guys in better spots. That’s my fault.”

Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor had two touchdown catches apiece,

Allen rushed two more scores, and the Trojans (10-4) answered every

question about their own motivation by repeatedly dancing on the

sideline during the storied program’s first postseason victory

since 2009.

From Kessler’s smooth offense to a dynamic defensive effort

against Fresno State’s FBS-best passing game, USC was uniformly

outstanding in its only game under Helton.

The offensive coordinator filled the one-game gap between

coaches Ed Orgeron and Steve Sarkisian on the Trojans’ coaching

carousel, but USC picked up right where Orgeron left off after its

desultory start to the season under Lane Kiffin. The Trojans ended

up celebrating under confetti in the north end zone, joining

friends and family on a chilly desert night in front of a sellout

crowd at Sam Boyd Stadium.

After the teams traded touchdowns on their opening drives, the

Trojans blocked Fresno State’s extra point attempt – and it started

a deluge.

Agholor caught TD passes of 40 and 17 yards for the Trojans’

next two scores. Allen made a 24-yard TD run through bad tackling

midway through the second quarter, and Lee turned a short pass into

a 40-yard TD with 37 seconds left in the half.