USC finished off a topsy-turvy season on a high note Saturday with a dominating performance in the Las Vegas Bowl by defeating Fresno State, 45-20.
Game MVP Cody Kessler passed for 344 yards and a bowl record four touchdowns to lead USC (10-4) to the victory.
He connected with Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor for two touchdowns each while Javorius Allen rushed for two scores.
The Trojans defense kept pressure on quarterback Derek Carr throughout the game, forcing the likely first-round NFL draft pick into a 29-of-54 passing performance for 217 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.
The victory ended a season in which offensive coordinator Clay Helton became the second interim coach for the bowl game. Lane Kiffin was fired after a 3-2 that included embarrassing Pac-12 Conference losses to Washington State and Arizona State.
Assistant Ed Orgeron took over and guided the Trojans to a 6-2 record, but he departed when it was announced that Washington’s Steve Sarkisian, a former USC assistant, would be hired as coach.
Kessler was sharp from the start Saturday, completing 22 of 31 passes, with all four touchdown strikes coming in the first half when USC built a 35-6 lead.
Allen rushed for 87 yards in 27 carries. Ty Isaac picked up 44 yards in eight carries for the Trojans, who had a decisive advantage over Fresno State (11-2) in total yards: 499-254.
Here’s a recap of the game:
USC 45, Fresno State 20 (final)
The Trojans held on another drive, forcing a Bulldogs punt with 2:40 left and were able to run out the clock to secure a victory in the Las Vegas Bowl as well as a 10-win season.
Derek Carr completed three passes on Fresno State’s final possession, but the first was for no gain and there was a personal foul penalty on the Bulldogs during the play. Fresno State was later unable to get a first down on a third-and-20 play with a 15-yard completion to Justin Johnson.
USC 45, Fresno State 20 (4:44 left in fourth quarter)That should be it for the Las Vegas Bowl.
The Trojans marched down the field for a 13-play, 80-yard scoring drive that was capped with a one-yard run by Javorius Allen.
Allen rushed for 34 yards on the time-consuming drive that began with a little less than 12 minutes remaining in the quarter.
Cody Kessler completed all three of his passes during the drive, including two for key first downs. One completion went for 36 yards to Marqise Lee, who broke a tackle on the short sideline pattern and was finally stopped at the Bulldogs’ 20-yard line.
USC 38, Fresno State 20 (11:58 left in fourth quarter)
The Trojans continue to hold Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr in relative check by forcing three incomplete passes at midfield.
Garrett Swanson’s punt is almost downed at the USC one-yard line but is ruled a touchback and the Trojans will take over at their 20.
Carr, a likely first-round draft choice in the NFL draft, has completed only 26 of 51 passes for 200 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.
USC 38, Fresno State 20 (13:01 left in fourth quarter)
The Bulldogs held after their pick six, forcing USC to punt from deep in its own territory after a three-and-out series.
Fresno State has the ball at USC’s 48-yard line following a 35-yard punt by USC’s Kris Albarado and a fair catch by Bulldogs receiver Isaiah Burse.
USC 38, Fresno State 20 (14:40 left in fourth quarter)
Fresno State safety Derron Smith intercepted a pass by Cody Kessler and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown to give the Bulldogs hope.
It was Smith’s seventh interception of the season.
Kessler has completed 18 of 25 passes for 298 yards and four touchdowns, with the one interception.
USC 38, Fresno State 13 (end of third quarter)
USC cornerback Josh Shaw intercepted a pass in the end zone with eight seconds left in the quarter to stop a Bulldogs drive.
Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler has passed for a career-best 298 yards and four touchdowns in the game.
Kessler also scrambled for 17 yards during a third-quarter scoring drive that gave the Trojans a 25-point lead.
The Trojans have outgained the Bulldogs, 393 yards to 237.
Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr has completed 26 of 48 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.
USC 38, Fresno State 13 (6:44 left in third quarter)
Andre Heidari kicked a 39-yard field goal to cap a 48-yard, nine-play drive.
Heidari has made 15 of 22 field-goal attempts this season.
Quarterback Cody Kessler had a key 17-yard scramble on third down to keep alive the drive.
Kessler has completed 16 of 21 passes for 258 yards and four touchdowns.
USC 35, Fresno State 13 (11:42 left in third quarter)
Derek Carr connected with Davante Adams for a 23-yard touchdown pass to keep the Bulldogs within striking distance.
A fumbled punt by USC’s Nelson Agholor gave Fresno State its opportunity.
Carr has completed 23 of 40 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns.
Adams, who has 24 touchdown catches this season, has six catches for 49 yards in the game.
USC 35, Fresno State 6 (halftime)USC quarterback Cody Kessler has passed for a Las Vegas Bowl record four touchdowns in the first half to lead the Trojans to a 29-point lead.
Kessler has completed 14 of 18 passes for 243 yards.
Nelson Agholor and Marqise Lee each have two touchdown catches. Agholor has four receptions for 88 yards, Lee four for 59.
Javorius Allen has rushed for 38 yards in 13 carries, including a 24-yard touchdown.
Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr has completed 18 of 32 passes for 125 yards.
USC 35, Fresno State 6 (37 seconds left in second quarter)
Marqise Lee caught a pass over the middle from quarterback Cody Kessler and turned it into a 40-yard touchdown play.
It was Lee’s second touchdown catch of the game and his fourth of the season.
Lee has four catches for 59 yards.
USC 28, Fresno State 6 (7:27 left in second quarter)
USC tailback Javorius Allen broke off right tackle for a 24-yard touchdown run to increase USC’s lead to 22 points.
Allen, voted the Trojans’ most valuable player, has gained 41 yards in 11 carries.
The Trojans scored two plays after Fresno State faked a punt and had a pass fall incomplete.
USC 21, Fresno State 6 (9:06 left in second quarter)
Cody Kessler has passed for three touchdowns.
Kessler and Nelson Agholor connected for their second touchdown of the game, this time a 17-yard play, to increase the Trojans’ lead to 14 points.
Agholor bobbled the pass and was initially ruled out of bounds at the back of the end zone. But officials reviewed the play and awarded the touchdown to the Trojans.
Kessler has completed 11 of 15 passes for 157 yards.
Agholor has four receptions for 88 yards and two touchdowns.
USC linebacker Hayes Pullard set the stage for the nine-play, 65-yard scoring drive by stopping Fresno State running back Marteze Waller on fourth and three at USC’s 35-yard line.
USC 14, Fresno State 6 (end of first quarter)
USC quarterback Cody Kessler is the early leader in the battle of the Bakersfield boys.
Kessler, who played at Bakersfield Centennial High, has completed nine of 14 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, who played at Bakersfield Christian, has completed eight of 13 passes for 71 yards and a touchdown.
Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor caught the touchdown passes.
Lee has three receptions for 19 yards. He needs nine more catches to set a USC career record.
Cornerback Kevon Seymour has three tackles for USC.
USC 14, Fresno State 6 (6:22 left in first quarter)
Cody Kessler eluded pressure in the pocket and connected with wide receiver Nelson Agholor for a 40-yard touchdown pass play.
The big strike finished off a five-play, 65-yard drive.
Kessler has completed seven of nine passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns.
Agholor has two catches for 54 yards.
USC, 7, Fresno State 6 (8:33 left in first quarter)
Talk about a momentum swing.
USC safety Su’a Cravens recovered an onside kick, sending the Trojans sideline into a frenzy. But officials ruled that USC did not give Fresno State an oppportunity to receive the kick, so the Bulldogs took possession at USC’s 33-yard line.
Four plays later, Derek Carr completed an eight-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Burse.
USC defensive end George Uko blocked the extra point.
USC 7, Fresno State 0 (8:54 left in first quarter)
USC quarterback Cody Kessler connected with receiver Marqise Lee on a 10-yard touchdown pass to give the Trojans the early lead in the Las Vegas Bowl.
The play capped a 65-yard, 12-play drive.
Kessler completed five of six passes, including a key third-down strike while on the run to freshman Darreus Rogers.
Kessler also gained two yards on a fourth-down sneak.
Lee has two receptions for 14 yards. The junior needs 10 more catches to break the USC career record of 252 receptions by Robert Woods.