San Diego, Ca – It wasn’t the start USC head coach Clay Helton wanted and it definitely wasn’t the ending he wanted either.
On a 4th and 10 USC QB Kody Kessler throws an incomplete pass to Darreus Rogers, which would’ve been short of the 1st down marker anyways.
“We were on two different pages,” said Rogers. “We forgot the down a distance and it was just a short route.”
And with the 3 seconds left all Wisconsin QB and offensive MVP Joel Stave had to do was take knee as the Badgers bullied the men of Troy in a 23-21 win in the National Funding Holiday Bowl.
A Kessler interception with less than two minutes to go a drive before, sums up USC’s struggle of a season.
After stepping in for Steve Sarkisian, the Trojans are 5-4 under newly appointed head coach Clay Helton.
After giving up 262 rushing yards in their Pac-12 championship game loss to Stanford earlier this month, Wisconsin rushed for 177 yards and proved that maybe the Pac-12 doesn’t have the physicality to keep with the smash mouth football teams in the big 10 and SEC.
On Saturday, Nebraska put on a clinic gashing UCLA on the ground rushing for 326 yards in their 37-29 Foster Farms Bowl victory.
USC found itself trailing 20-7 after Stave found Justin Davis completely open in the end zone for the 4-yard touchdown.
The Trojans struggled to give Kessler much time to throw the ball when he wasn’t getting sacked, as the No. 3 defense had no issues causing disarray. At one point, Wisconsin linebacker Jack Cichy took down Kessler 3 times in one series.
But with all that having transpired, USC still managed the grab a hold of the lead 21-20 with 10:19 left in the fourth quarter after Kessler was able to buy sometime to find Rogers for a 7-yard touchdown.
The Badgers wouldn’t go away and two 17-yard completions by back up QB Bart Houston set up Wisconsin for a 29-yard go-ahead field goal and essentially the game winner.
Wisconsin held USC to 65 rushing yards and made life difficult for the young star Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
The loss to the Badgers snaps a 13 game win streak against Big 10 opponents for USC.
The victory gives Wisconsin QB Joel Stave 31 wins as a starter breaking the school record previously held by Brooks Bollinger
The Pac-12 is 5-2 this year in Bowl games with three remaining. USC and UCLA are the two lone losses and have no more room to trend downwards, but coach Helton is happy with the talent surrounding his locker room.
“I think you look at a bunch of young kids and a few seniors who won a Pac-12 South championship,” he said. “Our future is bright.”
USC played 15 first-year freshmen this season and six have started. They used 26 true and redshirt freshmen this year.
In Kessler’s last game, he threw for 221 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception on 18 of 32 passing. He finishes his career at USC with 10,339 yards passing 88 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.
Obviously I wanted to win the game, but I was so proud of those guys, how hard they fought, the seniors and everybody,” said Kessler. “I left everything I had on that field.”
It wouldn’t be right to judge Helton on his turbulent start; he has yet to hire a staff. But it is fair to question whether his hiring was a make up for letting Ed Orgeron go.
One thing is for certain, Alabama is USC’s first game of next season and we know what we can expect from them.