LAS VEGAS -- If the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl was supposed to offer the first real indication of how Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr would fare against an NFL-caliber defense, Carr's dismal performance raised serious questions about how he might fare against actual NFL defenses.
Carr managed just 217 yards, his second-lowest total this season, with two touchdowns and one interception on 29-of-54 passing in a 45-20 loss to the Trojans at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Several drops by Carr's receiving corps did not help matters, nor did several badly overthrown balls on those handful of occasions when redshirt sophomore Davante Adams and others had chances to deliver the big strike and get the Bulldogs back in the game.
"We hit some guys in the hands, had some drops. They did a good job of covering our receivers. I think it was a combination of those things," Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter said. "He didn't have his best game clearly, but I think it was more of a factor of the guys playing against us than he being off because of an injury or something."
Even as Fresno State tried to use a variety of screens and other quickly-developing plays to slow down the USC pass rush, Carr still struggled to set his feet and deliver with authority.
An apparent shoulder injury at the end of the first quarter -- when Carr put out his hands after being knocked to the ground and came up favoring his left side -- did not help matters.
"They have got a great front," Carr, who was sacked once, said. "They weren't confusing us much. We knew what they were in; we knew what they were doing."
Such poor pocket presence and accuracy raise the stakes for Carr -- who was being discussed as a likely first-round draft pick -- in the Reese's Senior Bowl. Another subpar showing on the field there could jeopardize his status as the top senior quarterback in the 2014 NFL Draft, despite finishing the season with 5,083 passing yards and 50 touchdowns through the air against eight interceptions.
But if there was one area where Carr demonstrated pro-ready skills, it was in the postgame interview.
"Blame me," Carr said. "Blame me always. Don't blame anybody else. I got to do a better job leading. I got to do a better job of getting our guys in better spots. That's my fault. Blame me."
Carr can talk the talk, but will have to show he can walk the walk and make the throws in a muddled pocket to be a viable NFL quarterback.