On Saturday, the USC Trojans will look to win their second straight bowl game and move to an astonishing 6-1 in California bowl games since 2003. Nebraska is a program in change having hired Mike Riley in early December after firing long-time head coach Bo Pelini. Here are some keys to the game for the Trojans, who will be participating in their first National University Holiday Bowl.
Contain Running Back Ameer Abdullah
Ameer Abdullah finished the 2014 regular season with 1,523 rushing yards (No. 11 in the nation), his third season with at least 1,000 yards. The 5’9" Alabama native has been the focal point of opposing defenses’ game plans yet still finds ways to consistently have 100-yard games.
Easily the biggest key to a USC victory in San Diego is containing Abdullah, who as usual, will be heavily involved in Nebraska’s offensive game plan. The Trojans will need to crowd the box and force Abdullah to work for every single yard he gains. In Nebraska’s three losses this season, Abdullah had 45, 69, and 98 rushing yards. If Abdullah rushes for less than 100 yards, there is a good chance the Trojans walk out of Qualcolmm Stadium with a victory.
Run, Run, Run, Run the ball
Nebraska ranked No. 79 in the nation this year, allowing over 176 yards per game on the ground. You have to give them a little slack as the Big Ten had the nation’s top two rushers but they still allowed (at the time) an NCAA record 408 yards to Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon on November 15th in the Badgers' 59-24 victory.
To keep the ball away from Nebraska and Abdullah, USC needs to run, run, run, run the ball on Saturday. Buck Allen had 1,337 rushing yards in 2014 and should be given enough carries to go over 100 yards for the ninth time this season. Allen had a breakout season in 2014 and is the type of back that can wear down a poor-tackling Nebraska team. Also we can expect to see a good amount of Justin Davis, who had 81 rushing yards and a touchdown against Notre Dame.
A Fast Start
USC needs to come out and score early and often against a team that is still adjusting to the firing of their head coach. Qualcolmm will be filled with more USC fans and if the Trojans can jump out to an early lead, Nebraska could be in panic mode by the second quarter. The Notre Dame game was a perfect example as the Trojans jumped out to a 21-0 first quarter lead and led by 28 at halftime. USC was accustomed to fast starts this year as they were third in the nation with 13.1 points in the first quarter per game.
Don’t punt to Pierson-El
Assuming USC doesn’t score on every offensive possession on Saturday, there is a strong possibility the Trojans will have to punt to De'Mornay Pierson-El. If so, punter Kris Albarado should punt away from him or near the sidelines because Pierson-El was one of the most explosive punt returners in 2014.
The freshman led the nation with 589 return yards and tied with Utah’s Kaelin Clay for most punt returns for touchdowns with three. Pierson-El is excellent at finding holes in the opposing team’s coverage and could cause tons of havoc for a team that was 124th in the nation by allowing 17 yards per return.