Friday Night Video: Holiday Bowl

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The hard work has been done and the reward is almost here. Just about 24 hours to the Holiday Bowl kickoff, enjoy the final Friday Night Video of the season...

2014 Holiday Bowl: USC vs. Nebraska

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Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-3) vs. No. 24 USC Trojans (8-4)

Qualcomm Stadium at 5 p.m. PT on ESPN and WatchESPN

Husker to Watch: Senior RB Ameer Abdullah

Abdullah.jpgThe Huskers possess a formidable and diverse rushing attack centered around versatile tailback Ameer Abudullah. The senior has run for 1,523 yards (12th in the nation) and 18 TDs this season plus he contributes as a receiver (208 yards) and kick returner (272 yards) making him the No. 5 ranked all-purpose threat in the country.  For the most part, the Trojans have fared well against star running backs in 2014, but this will be the toughest back they face, according to head coach Steve Sarkisian.

3 Keys

That Old Chestnut

After Tyler Murphy torched the Trojans in Chestnut Hill, any mobile quarterback strikes fear into the heart of USC fans, but Justin Wilcox's defense has contained the quarterback fairly well since that Boston College loss. However, in this day and age, the dual threats never end, so Tommy Armstrong provides the latest challenge. The sophomore is an average passer (seventh in the Big Ten at 192.8 yards per game), but he uses his feet to gain an extra 55.3 yards per game, which makes him a dangerous complement to Abdullah. The Huskers will look to make some big plays over the top in the passing game, but they are a running team with one of the nation's best 1-2 punches at QB and RB.

Scouts Honor

Theoretically, Nebraska DE Randy Gregory and USC DE Leonard Williams could return to school for their senior seasons, but more likely, they will be lured to the NFL thanks to their Top 10 projections. Depending on team needs, Gregory and Williams could be competing to be the No. 1 overall pick. The Holiday Bowl will provide a national stage for both players to show off their wares. Williams should thrive working inside against a makeshift Nebraska line, but Gregory will find Freshman All-American OT Toa Lobendahn a worthy adversary albeit a young one. If USC's young line can protect QB Cody Kessler, he can take aim at becoming the first Pac-12 quarterback to reach 40 touchdown passes in a season.

Beware the Blackshirts

"This is the best football team we've played all year," Sarkisian stated plainly at the final press conference before the Holiday Bowl. The head coach is certainly not underestimating the Cornhuskers even without their head coach Bo Pelini. Interim head coach Barney Cotton has his troops inspired, and they are a talented bunch, including PR De'Mornay Pierson-El, the nation's leader in punt return yardage, and DB Nate Gerry, who has five interceptions this season. The Trojans have enjoyed perfect preparation for this game, but they will need to execute at a high level to finish the season with a Holiday Bowl victory.

Here is the head coaches' press conference on the day before the Holiday Bowl:

Christmas at Sea World

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The USC football team spent Christmas with its Trojan Family at Sea World in San Diego.

Holiday Bowl Practice #13: Sarkisian Presser

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The Trojans are ready to rock with just about 48 hours to go until the Holiday Bowl. They finished their final full practice today with only a stadium walk-thru on the docket tomorrow.

Here is head coach Steve Sarkisian's press conference on this Christmas morning with an impromptu 50-yard dash in the background, which WR George Farmer impressively won:

Zoo Trip

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The San Diego Zoo trip provided a Holiday Bowl highlight for the Trojans.

Happy Holidays

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Merry Christmas from the Trojan Family to your family!

Holiday Bowl Practice #12: Notes

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The Trojans practiced at San Diego State this morning before an afternoon trip the zoo.
  • USC is in good health overall, but WR Ajene Harris (hamstring) is doubtful.
  • Head coach Steve Sarkisian was happy with the "transition" from Los Angeles to San Diego thanking both the Holiday Bowl committee and SDSU for making things so easy.
  • While time is surely winding down for the seniors, the draft eligible juniors could also be practicing in Cardinal and Gold for the final time this week. Sarkisian has been impressed with their ability to "compartmentalize" this week and not look ahead to future decisions. The Florida trio (Leonard Williams, Nelson Agholor and Buck Allen) practiced as hard today as ever taking Sarkisian's message to heart that they should "embrace this, enjoy this" week and worry about the NFL after Saturday.
  • Williams is the most obvious candidate to declare early because he is a projected Top 10 pick, but "I don't think it is as cut and dry and as easy for him as people would assume," said Sarkisian. "Leonard loves USC."
  • As for Saturday's opponent, "They throw everything at you," LB Anthony Sarao said about Nebraska's offense. "And they've got explosive players at the skill positions, so it is something to see."
  • The Cornhuskers' star offensive attraction is senior RB Ameer Abdullah who is 12th in the nation in rushing and fifth in all purpose yardage. Sarao praised his "good center of gravity" and explained that the Trojans need a "gang tackle mentality" to get him to the ground.
  • The shorthanded Trojans were wearing down in the final weeks of the season, but their bodies have come back to life after a few weeks rest. "[I] feel fresh out here like it is the first game," said Sarao.
  • Here is Sarkisian after practice...

Senior Tunnel

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The 2014 senior class enjoyed its last practice on Howard Jones Field today.

Drive Down the Five

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The Trojans have arrived in San Diego for the Holiday Bowl. The team hotel is situated beautifully between the bay and PetCo Park.


Holiday Bowl Practice #11: Notes

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The USC senior class enjoyed its final practice on Howard Jones Field and then departed through the annual gauntlet...
  • The Trojans will depart this afternoon for the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. In the final practice on campus, the players swapped jerseys, which can look pretty funny when OG Khaliel Rodgers (315 pounds) is trying to wear Nelson Agholor's (190 pounds) No. 15 and vice versa.
  • Defensively, Nebraska poses a formidable challenge up front led by 6-foot-6 defensive end Randy Gregory. "He's really good," Sarkisian stated plainly about the projected NFL Top 10 pick. "His explosiveness for a guy that is that tall makes him a challenge."
  • USC QB Cody Kessler has used the extra time in bowl prep to watch extensive Nebraska game film, and he sees an elite pass rush. "They pride themselves on their front seven," he said. "They are going to pin their ears back and come after me."
  • The young USC offensive line is ready for the challenge having grown and gelled throughout the season. "They're starting to fix their own problems," said OL coach Tim Drevno. "That's when you feel like an offensive line is really progressing nicely."
  • While all eyes are on the juniors debating whether or not to declare for the NFL Draft, freshman OL Damien Mama also has an offseason decision to make about serving his Mormon mission. "I plan to do that after the season, sit down and just visit with him at length and see where he wants to go with that," said Drevno about Mama's future plans. "We respect his decision with his family and his religion."
  • Kessler called the Holiday Bowl "one of the Top 10 bowls in the country," so the team is excited to get down to San Diego, where the itinerary is packed with practices, activities and meals. We'll have it all covered on the RipsIt Blog.
  • Here is Sarkisian's morning press conference: