LAS VEGAS -- The biggest surprise was not the way USC dominated Fresno State, nor the way the Trojans smothered quarterback Derek Carr and a potent Bulldogs offense, but the lack of any draft declarations after the Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium.
USC defensive end George Uko said that evaluations from the draft advisory board had not arrived yet, but decisions whether to enter the 2014 NFL Draft by himself and others would likely be coming in the next two weeks.
Uko, linebacker Hayes Pullard, safety Dion Bailey and cornerback Josh Shaw are among the prominent underclassmen with decisions to make, but on this Saturday the focus was on the role they played in limiting a team that had been averaging 45.3 points per game to just two offensive touchdowns.
Interim coach Clay Helton praised defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and his starting unit that had played almost the entire second half of the season using just 13 players for holding Fresno State to 254 yards.
"That's what our defense has done all year. Our defense is so good at stopping the run, stopping the pass, confusing teams that it makes it difficult," USC quarterback Cody Kessler, who was named the most valuable player after throwing for four touchdown passes, said. "Holding a team almost 300 yards under their average is amazing."
The USC pass rush offered its typical disruptive presence, pressuring Carr all afternoon into poor throws. But the secondary did its part, with Shaw limiting impressive redshirt sophomore wide receiver Davante Adams to nine receptions for 74 yards, none longer than 23 yards.
"Playing Adams was another challenge," Shaw, who finished with six tackles, said. "I see these type of receivers in practice everyday, and so I just wanted to be very physical with him and mix it with him and frustrate him and Carr."
Shaw conceded a touchdown to Adams on a nifty back-shoulder throw in the first quarter but made amends with an interception in the end zone late in the third quarter to snuff out any potential Fresno State comeback bid.
Carr finished with 217 passing yards and two touchdowns, becoming the latest high-profile quarterback contained by USC.
"We have gone through Chuckie Keeton, Derek Carr, Sean Mannion (Kevin) Hogan. Who else? Brett Hundley, he was one of few that got us. Taylor Kelly got us. We've played quarterbacks and we've played top quarterbacks. We've shut 'em down. Receivers too. We come in every week and we lock down their best player. I was expecting this," Uko said.
Speculation about the future could have been a distraction for USC defenders, but instead fueled the standout effort, Uko said.
"You think about it by playing," Uko, who blocked an extra point, said. "This is your future. It is going to drive you even harder because you can be that much closer. You know your dream is actually attainable."
Decisions about whether it will happen next May for Uko and other USC defenders are still to be determined.