It hasn’t been the type of season that 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee had envisioned when he returned to the USC Trojans for his junior season. A new quarterback under center turned out to be only part of the problem for Lee in 2013 as he took a major step back and even missed three games due to injury. In what will likely be his final game with USC before leaving for the NFL, can Marqise Lee break out against the Fresno State Bulldogs in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl?
After the season he had in 2012 catching 118 passes for 1,721 yards with 14 touchdowns and eight games of 100-yards receiving or more, Lee was expected to have a junior season for the ages in 2013. But quarterback issues early in the season along with questionable playcalling from Lane Kiffin before his untimely exit from the program got Lee off to a slow start. A knee injury slowed him down for pretty much the rest of the year and he finished the regular season second on the team in receiving with 50 catches for 673 yards and only two touchdowns while getting over the 100-yard mark just twice this season.
But heading into the bowl game, Cody Kessler has taken command of the quarterback position and has arguably been playing much better as the season has gone on. In the second half of the year, Kessler has thrown at least one touchdown in every game with eight TDs to zero interceptions while averaging 215.5 yards per game. Against Fresno State, they will face a pass defense that ranked No. 11 in the Mountain West this season (out of 12), giving up 278.2 yards per game through the air and allow an average of 12.94 yards per reception. In their loss to the San Jose State Spartans in the regular season finale, the Bulldogs’ D was carved up through the air, allowing 577 yards and six touchdowns through the air.
While the Fresno State offense will likely press the tempo of the game with their prolific passing attack, USC may need to try and match pace through the air a bit to stay in the game. That means opportunities for Lee and Nelson Agholor (51 catches, 824 yards, 4 TDs in 2013) to make major impacts on the game. Can Lee finally capitalize on the opportunity and have one last signature performance for USC before taking his talents to the next level?