Trojans Fall to Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl 23-21
San Diego, CA – Down 23-21 with just over 2 minutes left to play in the fourth quarter, the USC Trojans and quarterback Cody Kessler had a chance to write the perfect ending to their bizarre season.
But just like the rest of the season, the final two minutes of Wednesday night’s Holiday Bowl didn’t go as planned for old ‘SC.
The Trojans fell behind early in the game. A Wisconsin field goal followed by a quick touchdown put the Badgers up 10-0 midway through the second quarter. Then after two fourth down conversions, USC’s Justin Davis scored a touchdown that chipped into the lead before Wisconsin tacked on another field goal to end the half.
The Badger’s went into halftime leading 13-7.
Wisconsin added to their lead with a touchdown midway through the third quarter to make the score 20-7. And then when it seemed like all hope was lost, USC fought back like they have all season. They scored on another Davis touchdown run and then scored again on a pass from Kessler to Darius Rodgers, briefly taking the lead midway through the fourth quarter. But Wisconsin quickly responded with another field goal to take a 23-21 lead.
With 2:27 left on the clock and two timeouts in their back pocket, Cody Kessler and the Trojan offense had the perfect opportunity to manufacture a game-winning drive. However, the Badger defense crushed that opportunity when they broke through the line and pressured Kessler, causing him to throw an interception – his sixth of the season.
But a quick three-and-out by Wisconsin gave the Trojans one final chance for a miracle.
USC got the ball back on their own 10-yard line with 47 ticks left on the clock. This time they had no timeouts.
After a couple of quick completions, the Trojans found themselves at mid-field with just under 20 seconds left. Then Kessler launched a deep ball to JuJu Smith-Schuster, who laid-out and just barely missed making the catch of the season.
Still though, the Trojans had one more chance. With under 10 seconds left on 4thand 10 from the 50 yard line, Kessler threw a short out to Darius Rodgers. Rodgers did not make the catch, but even if he had it would have been well short of the first down marker, let alone the end zone.
The play left Trojan fans scratching their heads, as Wisconsin took a knee to end the game.
When asked about the play call after the game, Kessler explained that the defensive back covering Rodgers was playing way off the ball. Kessler signaled to Rodgers to run an out route instead of a Hail Mary, so that he could pick up the first down and quickly get out of bounds to stop the clock with a few ticks left. That would have given kicker Alex Wood a chance at a long game-winning field goal.
Coach Clay Helton was quick to take the blame off of his player.
“It’s not on them, it’s on me as a coach,” he said in the post-game press conference. “It’s my responsibility.”
He added, “I’m proud of my seniors for all they accomplished this year and I feel bad for them to go out like this.”
The next stop for Kessler will be April’s NFL draft. He is currently projected to be a fifth-round pick.