LAS VEGAS -- Southern Cal will have its fourth head coach affiliated with the program when the Trojans play the Bulldogs in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday.
Lane Kiffin was fired by USC athletic director Pat Haden five games into the season. Ed Orgeron took over on an interim basis in the final seven regular-season games.
Haden hired Steve Sarkisian as the permanent coach, prompting Orgeron to hastily tender his resignation.
Offensive coordinator Clay Helton, who gave way to Kiffin calling the offensive plays, is now the man in charge before Sarkisian takes complete control.
USC's offense will at least embrace Helton as the team's coach in Las Vegas.
With Helton calling the plays instead of Kiffin, the offense opened up, and quarterback Cody Kessler gained more confidence each game.
The offense managed only seven points in a home loss to Washington State with Kiffin calling plays early in the season. USC's offense averaged 30 points per game during its 6-2 stretch under Orgeron.
Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has improved the Trojans' defense in his first and only season with the Trojans. USC overpowered Stanford for a 20-17 victory over the Pac-12 champion Cardinal.
Pendergast's defense ranked among the nation's best in scoring defense (21st, 21.3 points per game), total defense (16th, 341.5 yards a game allowed) and rushing defense (19th, 127.1 yards a game allowed).
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter's specialty is defense. He was Texas A&M's defensive coordinator before taking over the Fresno State program in 2012. He is 20-5 in his two years with the Bulldogs, not because of his defense (which ranks No. 91 nationally) but a potent offense behind senior quarterback Derek Carr.
In his two years at Fresno State, DeRuyter has been rumored to fill the vacancies at Cal, Colorado and USC but he has stayed put.
Fresno State is a couple of plays from being undefeated and notching a BCS bowl berth, but a 62-52 loss at San Jose State ended those hopes.
Despite settling for something less than a BCS bowl, Fresno State welcomes the idea of facing a storied program like USC. The game will be a classic strength vs. strength with USC's defense matched against Carr's prolific offense.
Carr leads the nation with 405.5 yards passing per game. He passed for 4,866 yards and 48 touchdowns with only seven interceptions.
Kessler could do his best impression of Carr in this game because of Fresno State's pass defense ranking 118th nationally. He has two targets, Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor, who will present problems the Bulldogs have not seen this season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--QB Derek Carr has totaled 12,626 passing yards and 111 touchdowns in his Fresno State career. He is having one of his most productive seasons, passing for 4,866 yards and 48 touchdowns. NFL scouts love his strong, accurate arm, field awareness and vision. A drop-back passer, Carr does not have the mobility to keep a strong defensive front like USC honest. He has been sacked 11 times this season.
--WR Davante Adams will provide a strong challenge for USC's improving pass defense. He has 122 catches for 1,645 yards and 23 touchdowns. He averages 13.5 yards per catch. He was not to blame for Fresno State's upset loss to San Jose State. Adams had 13 receptions for 264 yards and three touchdowns. Adams' matchup with USC cornerback Josh Shaw, a former Florida standout, is worth the price of admission.
--WR Nelson Agholor, a sophomore, emerged as star receiver Marqise Lee struggled because of a knee injury this season. Agholor has 51 receptions for 824 yards. He has only four touchdowns receiving, but the USC offense was slow in development, with QB Cody Kessler not finding his rhythm until midway through the season. Agholor is also an accomplished kickoff and punt returner who can break a long touchdown at any time.
--RB Javorius Allen, a sophomore, has emerged as a USC running back to be reckoned with not only this year but next. He can become a Bishop Sankey for Steve Sarkisian at USC next season. Lane Kiffin did not give Allen a chance coming out of fall camp, one reason why the coach is no longer coaching the Trojans. In the last five games, Allen has rushed for 562 yards and 10 touchdowns.
BOWL HISTORY: Since USC's program was established in 1888, the Trojans have appeared in 48 bowl games. The Trojans (32-16 in bowl games) have played in 33 Rose Bowls, winning 24, both records for the bowl. After a run of four consecutive Rose Bowl appearances, USC has played in lower-tier bowls like the Las Vegas Bowl in its last three postseason appearances. The Trojans beat Boston College in the 2009 Emerald Bowl and lost to Georgia Tech last year in the Sun Bowl. Fresno State is 12-12 in its bowl history. The Bulldogs have lost their last four bowl games, twice in the New Mexico Bowl against Colorado State and Wyoming, in the Humanitarian Bowl to Northern Illinois and in the Hawaii Bowl to SMU.
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- American Football
- Steve Sarkisian
- Lane Kiffin
- Ed Orgeron