Game Day: Nebraska vs. USC

2-Minute Drill by Rich Kaipust

Nebraska rush offense vs. USC rush defense

Ameer Abdullah is four weeks further into his recovery than he was for the Huskers' last outing, and NU will need the senior I-back's best against USC. Nebraska likely will have two first-time starters on its offensive line (Paul Thurston at center, Matt Finnin at right tackle) and the Trojans allow just 132.5 yards per game and 3.9 per carry. It's been a tough road for the Huskers of late, with just 179, 118, 174 and 161 yards rushing in their last four games.

Nebraska pass offense vs. USC pass defense

Tommy Armstrong has completed less than 50 percent of his passes in three of the last four games, but was sharp against Minnesota (12 of 19 for 223 yards) and rallied against Iowa with four touchdowns. USC starts two freshmen in its secondary and allows 267.7 yards passing per game, so if NU can protect Armstrong he could have some success — and maybe Kenny Bell can pad his school-record stats one final time.

USC rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

Nebraska tightened up against Iowa after Wisconsin and Minnesota punished the Huskers' run defense, but USC will be a sturdy test with junior tailback Javorius Allen (1,337 yards, nine TDs). The Huskers' injuries defensively will be something to watch, because they will need all hands on deck against the Trojans.

USC pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

The Huskers allow opponents to complete just 47.5 percent of their passes and have as many interceptions (12) as touchdowns allowed (12). A lot of those statistics were compiled against Big Ten teams, however, so USC quarterback Cody Kessler (3,505 yards, 36 TDs), receiver Nelson Agholor (97 receptions, 11 TDs) and the rest will be way more to handle. Kessler has had four or more touchdown passes in six of 12 games, something NU can't allow to happen here.

Special teams

Each team has one of the more flamboyant punt returners in the nation with De'Mornay Pierson-El for NU (17.8 yards, three TDs) and Agholor for USC (10.6, two TDs). The Trojans throw in a kickoff return threat with Adoree' Jackson (27.7, one TD). The coverage units are similar, but USC has been a tad more reliable with its field goal kicking, albeit with fewer attempts.


It's hard to look at all that has happened to Nebraska in the last month and not wonder if it has taken a toll. The team also will be in the hands of an interim head coach against a USC program that has won 66.7 percent of its previous bowl games. The Trojans will be staying on the West Coast and playing on grass, own a huge edge in turnover margin and don't have some of the same injury questions as the Huskers.

Key matchup: NU secondary vs. USC's Nelson Agholor

Nebraska saw just one Big Ten receiver with more than 60 receptions (Illinois freshman Mike Dudek), so it will have to brace for the likely onslaught of targets to USC junior Nelson Agholor (97 catches, 11 TDs). That will call for solid performances from cornerbacks Josh Mitchell and Daniel Davie against the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder who has had at least seven receptions in eight games and as many as 16 against Cal.

Our take

Nebraska is 1-2 in three previous Holiday Bowls, and couldn't have looked better in 2009 or worse in 2010. This one will require some mental toughness and fortitude after the Bo Pelini drama that started Nov. 30 and was slow to go away. USC has showed signs of wanting to return to the upper tier and its wins over Stanford, Arizona and Notre Dame were better than any Husker victory if you go by the Sagarin ratings. As with any bowl game, though, who knows?

Our prediction: USC 40, Nebraska 24

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