Dec 21, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler (6) and receiver Nelson Agholor (15) celebrate after combining on a 40-yard touchdown against the Fresno State Bulldogs in the Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC vs. Fresno State: Studs and Duds

Stud: Cody Kessler

Coming into the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, discussion of the two quarterbacks followed two threads: 1) Derek Carr is really good. 2) Cody Kessler and Carr are both from Bakersfield. No one expected Kessler to to come out of the battle as the more heralded of the two.

But that is exactly what happened.

Kessler earned the MVP trophy with an impressive stat line, going 22-30 for 344 yards and four touchdowns, but the manner in which he compiled those stats showed just how far he has come since the season opener. Facing the nation’s sack leaders, Kessler evaded pressure, extended plays and found his talented receivers with accuracy. In fact, Marqise Lee could make an argument for earning stud honors with his seven catch, 118 yard, two touchdown day.

Of course, the performance wasn’t without its flaws. Kessler’s nasty habit of throwing touchdown passes to the other team made an unwelcome return, but with four scores on the day he’s forgiven for that one.

Dud: Derek Carr

Carr was touted as one of the best quarterbacks in the country, but he failed to impress against the Trojans. Like Kessler he threw a key interception. Unlike Kessler, he seemed more rattled in the face of a formidable pass rush.

Carr finished 30-54 for 217 yards and two touchdowns. The real problem with his performance is rooted in that 55% completion percentage. He overthrew open receivers on numerous occasions, missing plenty of chances to put a challenge to the defense and make the game interesting.

Stud: Kevon Seymour

Cornerback Kevon Seymour had a rough outing against UCLA. He bounced back with a vengeance against Fresno, honored as the defensive player of the game.

The true sophomore led the Trojan defense with seven tackles, including one for loss when he blew up Davante Adams on a bubble screen. His coverage for most of the game was like a blanket and he thrived playing closer to receivers at the line of scrimmage.

He nearly nabbed an endzone interception as well.

Dud: Referees

To put it simply, there were too many flags. Way too many.

USC was flagged 11 times for 98 yards, while Fresno State earned five for 65 yards.

The number wasn’t the biggest problem however. The questionable nature of more than a few referee decisions was no help.

The penalty which negated the Trojans’ successful onside kick recovery still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. A later pass interference call against Seymour was similarly head shaking and a personal foul on John Martinez  was particularly frustrating when the refs let the play continue well beyond the point Buck Allen’s forward progress was stopped.

Stud: Clay Helton

For being a “third-string head coach” Clay Helton did a wonderful job getting the Trojans prepared for the Vegas Bowl.

While favored by Vegas, most pundits gave the Bulldogs the upper hand, partly because there were questions about whether USC would be up for the game, whether a third interim head coach would be too much distraction to deal with, and whether the absence of the passionate Ed Orgeron would deflate the team.

Helton proved those questions were unfounded. Instead, he rallied the team around the idea of winning for Coach O. What’s more, the team rallied around Helton himself, something that might have played a role in the news today that Helton will be the second assistant to be retained by Steve Sarkisian.

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Tags: Clay Helton Cody Kessler Football Kevon Seymour USC Trojans

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