Holiday Bowl: USC Falls to Wisconsin in Fitting End to 2015


USC football finished out the 2015 season with a 23-21 loss to Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl complete with two late, and ultimately unsuccessful, comeback attempts.

The lowdown: The Trojans and Badgers both got off to a slow start, with teams combining for just 107 total yards of offense in the first quarter. In the second frame, Wisconsin got their offense rolling, as they started a run of four consecutive scoring drives.

In that time, which spilled into the third quarter, the Badgers gained 259 yards on just 39 plays. A six-yard Corey Clement run with 8:56 left in the first half gave Wisconsin a 10-0 lead.

USC would answer with their first remotely successful drive of the game, a nine-play 55-yard march capped off by a fourth-and-goal touchdown run from Justin Davis.

The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, first a Joel Stave pass to wide open tight end Austin Traylor, followed by a second Davis score for USC.

Dec 30, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Corey Clement (6) carries the ball against the Southern California Trojans during the 2015 Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After the Trojans forced a pair of three-and-outs and had suddenly built momentum, Wisconsin linebacker Jack Cichy sacked Cody Kessler on three successive plays. Kessler would rebound however, leading USC down the field in the fourth quarter on a key drive that would give the Trojans their first lead of the game.

Kessler bought time in the pocket and fired a strike to Darreus Rogers, who snagged it high over his head and Alex Wood added the extra point to made it 21-20.

Wisconsin took the lead with just 2:27 left on yet another Gaglianone field goal, setting up one last chance for Kessler. He threw an interception on the second play of the drive, but USC stopped Taiwan Deal right after to force the Badgers to punt one final time.

After a pair of early completions on the drive, the Trojans had their chance for a Hail Mary with sevens seconds left at the 50-yard line without any timeouts. Kessler checked down and threw a sideline route on fourth down, which was incomplete, sealing their second-straight loss to start the Clay Helton era.

The takeaway: It was fitting. That’s all you can really say about USC’s loss to Wisconsin. For a program that has decided to settle for seemingly safe and internal hires, with a quarterback who has widely been labeled as a check-down machine, it all made sense.

For the fifth-straight game the Trojans scored exactly three offensive touchdowns. For the second-straight game, they needed a strong third quarter to will them to a second half lead after putting in a terrible first half. For seemingly the 50th time this season, Helton and company didn’t give Ronald Jones enough touches.

Kessler opting to throw a sideline route on fourth down and ten, with seven seconds left, in Hail Mary territory, was just the cherry on top. USC desperately needed this season to end, so now they can focus on what looks to be a murderer’s row of a schedule in 2016. Buckle up.

Player of the game: Wisconsin linebacker Jack Cichy had the game of his career, highlighted by a three-straight sacks on one drive in the third quarter. He came into Wednesday with just two sacks to his name through his career.

Stat of the game: Nine. Ronald Jones had just nine total touches, despite averaging 6.56 yards per touch on eight carries and one pass reception.

Next on tap: Welp, it’s the big one. USC’s next game will be against perennial power Alabama on September 3rd in Arlington, Tex.