SAN DIEGO-Playmakers win games. The USC Trojans have a boatload full of them. Fortunately for the USC faithful, those playmakers did just enough to help the Trojans nudge Nebraska’s skilled-set athletes to walk away with a 45-42 National University Holiday Bowl win.
USC quarterback Cody Kessler was named the game’s Offensive MVP. Defensive end Leonard Williams claimed the Defensive MVP trophy. Running back Javorius “Buck” Allen made a spectacular dash to the endzone on a 44-yard run. But the playmaker of the game with the biggest impact for the Trojans just happens to be a first-year speedster from Gardena, California.
And he is one of the smallest guys on the field.
The National University Holiday Bowl turned out to be one big party for Adoree Jackson. The bigger the stage, the more the USC freshman shines. The spotlight has been on Jackson all season. All season, Jackson has been more than willing to oblige with the big-play. Saturday night was no different as Jackson didn’t hesitate to put on a show for the 55, 799 spectators attending the USC-Nebraska matchup at Qualcomm Stadium.
Sure, the final score wrapped up with USC totaling 45 points to Nebraska’s 42, but this game was cradled and rocked by Jackson, whose two big scoring plays at the beginning of the first and third quarters swung the momentum and the contest in favor of the Trojans. The see-saw contest went down to the final play of the game when Nebraska quarterback Tommie Armstrong Jr. heaved a Hail Mary pass that went unanswered as the clock hit zero.
Numerous players on both sides of the field made plays that made the contest a guessing game right up until the very end of regulation. But Jackson, with his lightning in a bottle speed, shifted the outcome with his two plays. And neither of them took very long to happen. Right after Nebraska’s Drew Brown booted a 34-yard field goal to give the state outsiders a 3-0 lead, Jackson popped the Cornhuskers’ bubble when he raced to the endzone in 11 seconds to complete a 98-yard kickoff return, giving the Trojans a 7-3 advantage.
Jackson then re-introduced himself to the Nebraska defense at the start of the third quarter with a 71-yard scoring pass play to give the Trojans a two-touchdown cushion over the Cornhuskers to make it 31-17. That play took all of 12 seconds. Thank you, good night, and thanks for coming. Jackson, for his part, said he was being himself, having fun.
“Just going out there and having fun and trusting what the coaches and the other players are telling me to do, because they’ve been here before me and I know what I have to do to earn those guys’ respect, “ Jackson said. “That’s what I want to do for the coaches and the other players, is get their respect and go out there and have fun and play the ball I’m capable of playing.”
Nebraska, behind the steady play of Armstrong, who kept the Cornhuskers in the game all the way through with his 381 yards passing and 57 yards rushing, didn’t go quietly in the night. Even with the score 45-27 in USC’s favor, Armstrong and his Nebraska teammates showed resiliency in battling back. The Cornhuskers’ effort would come up a couple of drives short as the Trojans managed to file their first appearance in the National University Holiday Bowl in the win column.
“I’m happy for our team,” USC coach Steve Sarkisian said. “You know, we’ve been through a lot this year. These guys could probably tell you even more so, but we’ve been through a lot and we’ve had a couple just excruciating losses, and to come out tonight and win at the very end, the way we always try to make it exciting! We make it entertaining for everybody! I’m happy for these guys. I’m really happy for them because they work every day, every time we go on the field they go to work.”
The National University Holiday Bowl was a good way for the Trojans to end the season on the right way. Considering how Pac-12 Conference teams have fared the last couple of years, it would seemed incumbent on the Trojans to break that streak while keeping another one intact.
The Pac-12 Conference teams have had the door slammed on them in the winning column for three straight years. California went down in defeat to Texas in 2011. UCLA got whipped by Baylor in 2012. In 2013, Texas tech put a hold on Arizona State. That changed with the Trojans win. What didn’t change is the USC’s line of victory against Nebraska. The Trojans have never lost to the Cornhuskers, now holding a 4-0-1 advantage.
The Trojans brought out their thunder and lightning game in the first half as they have done all season, putting up 24 points through the first 30 minutes of play. USC successfully mixed in the quick-hitting play with a steady dose of methodical drives that culminated in scores.
The lightning came by way of Jackson’s electrifying kickoff return right after Nebraska claimed a 3-0 lead on a short field goal. It didn’t end there as Kessler and Allen provided the thunder for the Trojans for much of the game. Kessler earned his Offensive MVP stripes by passing for 321 yards and three touchdowns. Allen kept Nebraska’s defense on its heels, rushing for a game-high 152 yards on 26 carries.