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Observations from the 2014 Holiday Bowl

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USC almost let another game get away but were able to secure their ninth victory of the season.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC slugged out a 45-42 victory over Nebraska in Saturday’s National University Holiday Bowl in San Diego. Although the Trojans picked up their ninth victory of the season, the game wasn’t all positives.

Here are some observations from the game:

  • Adoree' Jackson had another fantastic game to end his freshman campaign. Jackson went 98 yards for a touchdown early in the first quarter for his second kickoff return for a touchdown this season. Jackson found a hole on the right side of the field and was gone. But that was only the beginning.

    On the Trojans' second offensive possession of the third quarter, Jackson caught a short pass from quarterback Cody Kessler and went 16 yards upfield before cutting left for 55 yards and the touchdown. Jackson made five defenders miss on the play.

    The play reminded me of Reggie Bush’s run against Fresno State in 2005 when he infamously ran down the sideline and then switched the ball behind his back and ran to the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Jackson said he wants to be more involved in the offense next year and if Saturday was any indication, we could be seeing a lot of Jackson in the offense next year.

  • Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory is projected to be a top-five pick in the 2015 NFL Draft but on Saturday, he was quiet as the USC offensive line did a great job of keeping Gregory from making an impact. Gregory had four tackles against USC, but failed to get a sack or a tackle for a loss. The main credit has to go to both USC tackles: Zach Banner and Toa Lobendahn who both kept Gregory from getting off the edge. Nebraska only had two sacks on the night and offensive lineman coach Tim Drevno did a great job of getting the team prepared.

  • If they both declare for the NFL Draft, wide receiver Nelson Agholor and running back Javorius "Buck" Allen would finish their USC careers in style as they both had great games. Agholor had seven catches for 90 yards and a touchdown and finished the season with 104 catches, third most in a single-season by a USC receiver. He also knocked down the Hail Mary attempt to seal USC’s victory. Agholor caught most of his receptions on short routes (his specialty) and could break more USC records if he returns next year.

    Buck Allen was his usual self as he rushed for over 100 yards for the ninth time in 2014 on Saturday. The Trojans were committed to the run as Buck had 26 carries for 152 yards and two touchdowns including a 44-yard score in the third quarter. His 1,489 rushing yards were the most by a Trojan running back since Reggie Bush had 1,740 in 2005.

  • Looking at the box score, I was surprised that Josh Shaw tied Leonard Williams for the team lead with nine tackles in USC’s victory because every time I saw Shaw on Saturday, he was falling or slipping. For example, on Tommy Armstrong Jr.'s 65-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Westerkamp in the third quarter, Shaw fell down as he attempted to come back and swat the ball. Shaw’s season was chaotic with all of the off-the-field issues and it ended on a sour note.

  • Besides his 20-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, Ameer Abdullah was held in check by the USC defense. He finished the game with 88 rushing yards on 27 carries and a touchdown as Nebraska moved to 0-4 in games when he rushed for less than 100 yards this year. The biggest reason for success was USC's ability to win in the trenches. It forced Abdullah to go outside where multiple Trojans were waiting. Two guys who did an outstanding job of slowing down Abdullah in particular were Hayes Pullard and Leonard Williams. Both showed why they are outstanding tacklers.

  • Anybody else feel like ASU part two was going to happen in the Holiday Bowl? Nebraska scored the last 15 points of the game and threw the Hail Mary as time expired but for the Trojans, it should had never made it that far.

    USC was in control of the game but like the ASU and Utah games, they let the opponent back in the game and almost lost another nail biter. Where does the blame go? Obviously, one answer is head coach Steve Sarkisian, but the players have to also play a full 60 minutes if they want to win. USC will find itself with the same record next year if they can’t learn to close games out.