Today in USC Football’s Bowl History is a series looking back at the Trojans’ postseason moments. The December 27th edition features the 2014 Holiday Bowl.
The Holiday Bowl has existed for almost forty years. It has included a tie in with the Pac-12 for about half that span. Yet USC’s first ever appearance in the bowl game wasn’t until 2014.
That contest between USC and Nebraska was just two years ago, but the whirlwind that has surrounded the Trojans in recent history has given the match up an entirely new context in such a short time.
At the time, USC was entering a new era. Steve Sarkisian’s first year in Troy wasn’t perfect, but the head coach shook off the “Seven-Win Sark” mantle with his ninth victory of the season. 45-42.
Freshman Adoree’ Jackson started things off with a mouthwatering display of what would eventually earn him unanimous All-American honors.
The cornerback returned a kickoff 98 yards for USC’s opening score of the game early in the first quarter and later took a 71-yard catch-and-run to the house in the third quarter.
The Huskers’ Tommy Armstrong Jr. tossed a 65-yard touchdown to Jordan Westerkamp just before the start of the fourth quarter. As USC’s offense went into a shell in the final period, another touchdown for Nebraska a few minutes later made it a three-point game.
USC needed safety Leon McQuay III to come up with the two biggest plays of his career to that point, breaking up a pass on third down then making a shoe-string tackle on fourth down on Nebraska’s second-to-last drive. And even then, Nelson Agholor batted down a Hail Mary attempt at the end to secure the victory.
The Trojans were right to celebrate the hard-fought victory. It was a fitting send off for Josh Shaw and Leonard Williams, who together led USC in tackles on the night.
The game also served as the last hurrah for Allen, with 152 yards and two touchdowns, and Nelson Agholor, with seven catches for 90 yards and a touchdown.
Unfortunately, looking back, the cracks were already beginning to show.
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Sarkisian’s offense, which was so potent at times, simply couldn’t put the game away in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, Justin Wilcox’s defense let the Huskers stay in the game, giving up 42 points on the night.
The Trojans would return to San Diego for a second consecutive Holiday Bowl appearance in 2015, but neither of those coaches were present for that one.
Instead, USC was forced to hit the reset button again, firing Sarkisian in September for behavioral missteps and Wilcox in December after a horrendous defensive showing against Stanford in the 2015 Pac-12 Championship Game.