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Fresno State, USC QBs are friendly rivals

The Las Vegas Bowl will feature a quarterback from Bakersfield, Calif., putting up impressive numbers.

And Fresno State’s Derek Carr will be on the other side.

Like Carr, Southern California sophomore Cody Kessler is from Bakersfield, and he heads into Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. game at Sam Boyd Stadium having completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 2,623 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Not quite Carr’s line of 70.1 percent, 4,866 yards and 48 TDs, but still a promising season.

Kessler is used to being compared to Carr. When Carr was a senior in 2008 at Bakersfield Christian High School passing for 4,067 yards and 46 touchdowns, Kessler was a sophomore at Centennial High in that city throwing for 1,878 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Kessler’s numbers picked up at Centennial, and he became a decorated quarterback who graduated a semester early and enrolled in USC in the spring of 2011. Kessler attributes much of his success to Carr, saying they trained together in high school.

“He helped me out by giving me pointers and helping me along the way,” Kessler said. “We’ve kept in contact since, and he’s become one of my very close friends. He’s just a good guy. Their whole family are very good people.”

Kessler could be next in line among the great USC quarterbacks, but in this game most of the attention will go to the QB across the field.

“It’s kind of like it was in high school,” Kessler said. “Now he’s a senior and I’m a sophomore again, but it’s going to be fun.”

■ FOR THE DEFENSE — Fresno State is in the Las Vegas Bowl and not a Bowl Championship Series game because the Bulldogs couldn’t defend San Jose State quarterback David Fales on Nov. 29.

But the 21st-ranked Bulldogs are Mountain West champions because they shut down Utah State the following week in the conference title game.

It was quite a turnaround after giving up 62 points to San Jose State and 547 yards and six touchdown passes to Fales. Fresno State held Utah State to 304 yards in its 24-17 victory.

“In the San Jose State game, we played a hot quarterback who I think is a terrific player,” Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter said. “He’s got really good skill, and they were able to attack us in an area we’ve had some issues and some depth problems. They made plays, and our guys didn’t.

“That Monday we came back, there were a lot of hurt feelings. Guys were embarrassed, and Coach (Nick) Toth, the defensive coordinator, challenged their pride. Our defensive coaches did a terrific job, I thought. Our players played inspired, I think in large part to try to rectify the situation the week before and kind of redeem themselves in front of our home crowd.”

Getting that kind of defensive performance against Utah State could be big heading into the meeting with USC.

The Bulldogs, no doubt, would rather carry that kind of momentum than the feeling they had leaving San Jose State.

“We had to get back to what we were doing all year,” said safety Derron Smith, who leads Fresno State with six interceptions. “That’s relying on our technique, believing in the defense and trusting each other. When we do that, we’re a tough ballclub.”

■ PARTY TIME — Both teams will be at the bowl’s annual pregame luncheon at noon today at the Las Vegas Convention Center. ESPN NFL analyst Merril Hoge, a former running back most notably with the Pittsburgh Steelers, is the featured speaker. Tickets are available by calling 702-732-3912.

A pep rally for both schools will be at 6 p.m. at Fremont Street Experience.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.

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