LAS VEGAS – Cody Kessler realizes Southern California could have quit on this season after the Trojans’ first head coach was fired.
Or after their second head coach resigned.
Or before their fourth head coach in less than three months took over.
The quarterback and his Trojans simply stuck together, no matter who happened to be in charge. That tenacity got them a blowout win over a BCS contender in the Las Vegas Bowl — and the confidence that USC is back on the rise after a roller coaster of a season.
Kessler passed for a career-high 344 yards and a bowl-record four touchdowns in the Trojans’ 45-20 victory over No. 21 Fresno State on Saturday night under interim coach Clay Helton.
“This is a team that hopefully will be remembered forever in USC history,” said Kessler, the game’s MVP. “These guys, it doesn’t take a lot to get us motivated. When you’re playing just for someone else next to you, you don’t want to let him down.”
Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor had two touchdown catches apiece, Javorius Allen rushed for two more scores, and the Trojans answered every question about their motivation by repeatedly dancing on the sideline during the storied program’s first postseason victory since 2009.
“I can’t say how proud I am of this team,” Helton said. “We had to see: Were we going to use it as an excuse to be on our third-string head coach, or were we just going to say, ‘We’re not going to fail today.’ ”
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
“After all of the adversity that’s hit us, this win means everything for us,” safety Dion Bailey said. “We’ve had four head coaches and were able to get 10 wins. I’ll never forget this team.”
New Mexico Bowl
Colorado St. 48, Wash. St 45: In Albuquerque, New Mexico, Jared Roberts made a 41-yard field goal with 3 seconds left and the Rams overcame a 22-point deficit to beat the Cougars.
With less than 2 minutes left, Colorado State’s Shaquil Barrett forced Cougars running back Jeremiah Laufasa to fumble at the Cougars 33. That set up Kapri Bibbs’ 1-yard run scoring and Donnell Alexander’s two-point conversion run that tied it with 33 seconds left. Then, Teondray Caldwell fumbled a kickoff return at the 24, setting up the winning field goal.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
San Diego St. 49, Buffalo 24: In Boise, Idaho, Adam Muema rushed for 230 yards and three touchdowns and Quinn Kaehler threw two scoring passes in San Diego State’s victory over Buffalo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
The Aztecs pulled away early, scoring three touchdowns in a 5:24 span stretching from the end of the first half into the third quarter. The scoring spree was fueled by two costly Buffalo turnovers, the first an interception just before halftime that set up Kaehler’s 25-yard touchdown toss to Dylan Denso.
New Orleans Bowl
Louisana-Lafayette 24, Tulane 21: In New Orleans, Corey Trim returned an interception 82 yards for a touchdown, Hunter Stover hit a go-ahead 27-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, and Louisiana-Lafayette held off Tulane for its third straight New Orleans Bowl victory.
Tulane set up for a 48-yard field goal try in the final seconds, but Cairo Santos, the 2012 Lou Groza award winner as the nation’s best kicker, missed just left.
Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris each had touchdowns runs for the Ragin’ Cajuns, who led 21-0 on Trim’s interception of Nick Montana. But Tulane rallied to tie it at 21-21 on three TD runs by Orleans Darkwa.