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December 22, 2013

Bulldogs fall short in Las Vegas

The stage was set for the Fresno State Bulldogs as they looked to put an end to an outstanding 2013 season by doing battle against the USC Trojans in the 2013 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.

Bulldogs and Trojans fans decorated a sold out Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas with two different shades of red on Saturday to watch two familiar opponents with previous bowl history, duke it out.

Of course, the last time these teams met in a bowl game was back in 1992 at the Freedom Bowl in Anaheim. The heavily-favored Trojans would go on to lose the game to the Bulldogs 24-7 in one of the most lopsided bowl losses in school history.

Looking to channel their previous glory against the Trojans from the 1992 Freedom Bowl by donning the red helmets with 'Bulldogs' script on the side, the Bulldogs wanted to prove that, like then, they could hang with the mighty men from Southern Cal.

Unfortunately, for the No. 20 Bulldogs (11-2, 7-1 MW) the No. 25 Trojans (10-4, 6-3 Pac-12) remembered their history and turned the tables on the 'Dogs by harassing star quarterback Derek Carr all day with a stifling defense that would not let up.

In the end, USC sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler led a Trojans' offense that took a page from Fresno State's playbook and resulted in a Trojans 45-20 victory over the Bulldogs.

"I can't say how proud I am of this team," said Trojan's interim coach Clay Helton. "These guys, it doesn't take a lot to get us motivated."

The Trojans started their offensive bombardment with Kessler connecting with junior Marqise Lee on a touchdown on USC's opening drive.

The Bulldogs would then counter on their opening drive when Derek Carr threw an eight yard touchdown pass to sophomore Davante Adams. Colin McGuire's extra point attempt was blocked, resulting in a 7-6 USC lead. That was as close as the Bulldogs would get.

The Trojans would grab a big 28-6 lead early on touchdowns from sophomore Nelson Agholor, red shirt sophomore running back Javorius (Buck)Allen and Lee and would eventually take a 35-6 lead into half time.

As for the Bulldogs, their high-flying offense was held in check by a USC defense that entered the game ranked 16th in the nation in scoring defense.

"They're a good defense for a reason," said head coach Time DeRuyter. "They're physically very, very good and did a nice job mixing things up."

Carr was harassed all game long by a relentless Trojans pass rush that forced him to throw for 217 yards with two touchdowns and one interception on 29-55 passing. He looked uncomfortable all day, missing out on several big play opportunities by overthrowing his receivers.

The Bulldogs didn't go down without a fight, though.

In the second half, Carr would find Adams open in the end zone for a 23 yard touchdown that made it 35-13 Trojans. Strong safety Derron Smith intercepted Kessler for a pick-six later in the second half that made it 38-20 Trojans.

But then, the Trojans would put the final nail in the coffin when Allen scored his second rushing touchdown of the day to make it 45-20 Trojans.

After that, any chance the Bulldogs had to rally for a win was squashed.

"I felt we were prepared; I thought the coach did a great job with the practices, the curfews-all those things," said Carr. "I thought our guys were ready to go. There wasn't any lack of focus on any side of the ball during practice. USC just beat us."

The game marked the end of an outstanding career for Carr, who became the fourth quarterback in FBS history to throw for more than 5,000 yards in a season with 50 touchdowns.

"It's been so fun," said Carr. "It's bittersweet; like I say all the time, I should be a Bulldog for the next 20 years, but I got to feed my son."

Kessler outplayed Carr by throwing for a career high 344 yards on 22-31 passing and a Las Vegas Bowl-record four touchdowns. The Trojans amassed 499 overall yards to dominate the Bulldogs.

The matchup between Kessler and Carr was one of the more intriguing one's going into the game because both quarterbacks are from the Bakersfield area. Yet, despite their friendship, it was Kessler who would seize the day. Kessler's performance earned him the game's MVP honors.

"This is a team that will hopefully be remembered forever in USC history," said Kessler.

Their loss to USC means that the Bulldogs have now gone winless in their last six bowl games. The last time the 'Dogs claimed victory in the postseason was back in 2007, when they defeated Georgia Tech in the Humanitarian Bowl.

Despite the loss, the Bulldogs finished a tremendous season that saw them win their first ever Mountain West championship, and in two seasons under DeRuyter they've gone 20-6.

And with a talented young nucleus returning in 2014, the Bulldogs should have a very good chance to avenge their loss when they open up next season at the Coliseum.

"I think it's good; we got a lot of talented players, great coaches and the sky's the limit," said safety Derron Smith. "We just got to keep working and using this as fuel for next year."

Jason Smithberg is a special contributor to FSBulldogs.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @dodgerjason.


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