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April 16, 2014

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High-scoring Fresno State offense meets its match in bowl game

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Fresno State safety Derron Smith dives into the end zone after intercepting a USC pass during the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013 at Sam Boyd Stadium. USC won the game 45-20.

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl

The USC marching band performs before the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl game against Fresno State Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013 at Sam Boyd Stadium. USC won the game 45-20. Launch slideshow »

It was one of those days for Fresno State’s offense.

With four minutes remaining today in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, and the outcome already decided as the Bulldogs trailed USC by more than 20 points, record-setting quarterback Derek Carr heaved a perfect spiral downfield to a streaking Aaron Peck.

One step ahead of the USC defender and with a clear dash to the endzone in his sights, Peak dropped the ball. He wasn’t the first Bulldog receiver to come up empty.

Fresno State couldn’t gain any traction offensively, accounting for just 125 first-half yards and having just two drives of more than 40 yards in a 45-20 defeat.

The senior Carr, who is projected as a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, was just 30 of 54 passing for 217 yards and two touchdowns. While it was enough to put him over the 5,000-yard and 50-touchdown plateau for the season, it was far from the potent Fresno State offense credited with helping the Bulldogs open the season with 10 straight wins.

“He hit some guys in the hands and we had some drops,” Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter said. “They did a good job of covering our receivers. (Carr) didn’t have his best game, clearly, but it was more a factor of the guys playing against us.”

Less than a month ago, Fresno State (11-2 overall) seemed destined for a spot in the Bowl Championship Series. But it was upset over Thanksgiving weekend at San Jose State and closed the season today with another bowl-game defeat — they haven’t won a bowl game since 2007.

Last year, they were humbled in the Hawaii Bowl against SMU in a game they admitting didn’t bring their best effort. That wasn’t the case today.

USC was the better team. It had the better athletes.

Instead of Carr slinging the ball around the field, it was USC’s Cody Kessler who stole the show, connecting on a Las Vegas Bowl record four first-half touchdowns. Kessler was the game's MVP.

“Physically, they were the most impressive team we’ve played in the last two years,” DeRuyter said.

While Fresno State limited USC to just 10 points in the second half, the damage was already done. USC led 35-6 at halftime and had its way defensively most of the game, holding the Bulldogs nearly four touchdowns under their 45.3 points-per-game scoring average. It was the lowest scoring output of the season for a team that ranked fifth nationally in scoring and first in passing yards with than 400 yards per game.

“Blame me. Blame me always,” Carr said. “I’ve got to do a better job of leading, and I’ve got to do a better job of getting our guys in better spots. That’s my fault.”

Fresno State kept fighting in the second half, trimming its deficit to 38-20 after Derron Smith returned an interception 41 yards for a touchdown just 20 seconds into the fourth quarter. But, just when Fresno State finally grabbed some momentum, USC drained nearly eight minutes of the clock with its final scoring drive of the game, using a Javorius Allen 1-yard touchdown run to secure the win.

While critics will try to downplay the success of Fresno State’s season because of how it was easily defeated by USC, DeRuyter begs to differ. The Bulldogs were the Mountain West champions and had one of the nation’s most dangerous attacks.

“If you look at the body of work, this team won 11 ball games and a second straight conference championship,” he said. “...I know in my heart we have a very fine football team, and I’m very proud of them.”

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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