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Holiday Bowl Review: USC Trojans Position Grades & Analysis

The Trojans didn't have the ability to pull away from Wisconsin in the result of costly penalties, miscommunication, and a huge turnover.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

In a bizarre game full of questionable calls, consecutive sacks, and costly mistakes, the Trojans could not pull off the win against Wisconsin. The Badgers kept USC on its heels for most of the game by clutch plays on offense and bringing different pressures on defense. USC couldn't play disciplined football, as they had six penalties for 58 yards and blew a lot of pass protection on offense. The defense started off slow and did their best to hold the Badgers in the third quarter, but it wasn't enough against this powerful running offense to help set up a Rafael Gaglianone game-winning field goal. The Trojans' offense had plenty of opportunities to take the game back but with costly penalties and an interception the Badgers were able to secure the lead. Here is the breakdown of each position against Wisconsin:

Quarterbacks: Cody Kessler showed glimpses of how great he could be, at times getting rid of the ball and turning broken plays into first downs. Overall he lacked consistency and awareness, which led to 35.7% efficiency on third down, a costly interception, a delay of game, and poor communication with the offensive line. Once again we see that the Trojans' 2-minute drill is a mystery as Kessler ended the game with a seven-yard pass on fourth down when they needed 10. Kessler's poor performance receives a D.

Running Backs: Ronald Jones II and Justin Davis combined for 20 carries, 74 yards, and two touchdowns on the night. Jones made up most of the yards (47) on less carries (8), which remains a question that needs an answer. Despite some pretty tough runs from the two, you found the duo getting stopped in the backfield quite often mainly due to poor play on the offensive line. In the pass protection Kessler was knocked around and sacked a lot, which leads me to believe there was misunderstanding between the backs and linemen on who would be picked up when certain pressure was brought. Overall the running backs did an ok job in the limited opportunities they were given and they'll receive a C.

Receivers: The wide receivers did their absolute best to make things happen, as most of their catches came off of broken plays. Smith-Schuster was held to four receptions and only 65 yards whereas the rest were held to under 40 yards. USC had opportunities to make big plays in the air but the combination of poor execution and good man coverage held the Trojans to certain limits and capabilities. Overall the receiving core didn't drop many balls and did a pretty good job in run blocking for the rushing attack. I give the receivers a B.

Offensive Line: The offensive line started the game with costly penalties and ended it with critical mistakes. Banner and company couldn't maintain a block on Wisconsin's aggressive front seven, as false starts occurred and holding penalties plagued the Trojans. Kessler, the running backs, and line couldn't get on the same page with their pass protection neither, as they gave up three consecutive sacks to Holiday Bowl MVP Jack Cichy late in the game. The offensive line continues to struggle and remains a question mark as a unit. I give them a D-.

Defensive Line: Delvon Simmons, Antwaun Woods, and Greg Townsend played their best football against the Badgers than they have all season, making plays at the line of scrimmage and at times in the backfield. Woods and Simmons remained busy getting to the running backs instantly and putting pressure on Stave. Despite Wisconsin rushing for 177 yards on the night, the linemen looked the most consistent and at their best against a power running group. I give the defensive line a B.

Linebackers: The linebackers had a lot of trouble plugging their gaps and getting runners down off of initial contact. Osa Masina and Olajuwon Tucker were not capable of shedding off blocks to deliver stops against the run game, as Clements and the running committee beat the Trojans through the B-gaps for most of the night. Wisconsin did a great job keeping Cravens occupied and away from the run, as he wasn't able to be much of a factor throughout the night. The run had so much influence on the Trojans' defense that you found the unit biting on many play-actions, which led to a third quarter touchdown. USC's backers couldn't get much going and that led to many explosive plays by the Badgers on offense. I grade the linebackers at a D+.

Secondary: The youthful secondary had the energy but not the experience to shut down the experienced route runners in Alex Erickson and Robert Wheelwright. As USC stayed in man coverage across the board on defense, they also played with caution by not pressing receivers off the line. Allowing Erickson to have cushion against Isaiah Langley, Adoree Jackson, and Marvell Tell, Stave and Erickson was able to play pass and catch and get what the Trojans would give them. Unfortunately that included first downs on big third down conversions, a monstrous one-handed catch by Wheelwright, and a big time touchdown from Wisconsin's tight end Austin Traylor. USC's secondary couldn't find its match-ups against the Badgers wide receivers, which also led to costly pass interference penalties by two true freshmen in Marshall and Langley. The decision is in and the secondary receives a D.