LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) It's not the way he wanted it to happen, but John Papuchis relishes the opportunity to fly solo in his last game as Nebraska's defensive coordinator.
The firing of head coach Bo Pelini has left Papuchis in charge of every aspect of the Cornhuskers' defense in Saturday night's Holiday Bowl.
''How lucky am I for it to be against Southern Cal?'' a smiling Papuchis said with a big dose of sarcasm.
Pelini was hailed as a defensive whiz when he was named head coach in 2008, and Papuchis was 35 and a first-time coordinator when he was promoted from defensive line coach and special teams coordinator in 2012.
Many fans wondered - rightly so, Papuchis said - just how much authority he had.
''It never really has been clearly laid out there,'' Papuchis said. ''A lot of people look at the role of defensive coordinator and think that the only role was calling (the game) on Saturdays.''
Make no mistake: Pelini was in charge on game days.
Pelini formulated game plans through discussions with Papuchis and other defensive assistants. Papuchis said his primary roles were running player meetings, organizing practices and installing game plans.
Pelini and Papuchis stood nearly shoulder-to-shoulder on the sideline during games, with Papuchis hand-signaling defensive calls to the players on the field. Papuchis said Pelini sometimes would ask him for input.
''At the end of the day,'' Papuchis said, ''Bo had the final hammer in terms of what was called on Saturday.''
The Holiday Bowl will be Papuchis' show, and possibly an audition for his next job.
''In a sense, I kind of feel that way, although it's an odd way to have that because of all the dynamics that surround it,'' he said. ''I wouldn't want this (game) to be the only piece of the resume. I think there are a lot of things that have happened over the course of the years to build that resume, but I certainly think it's part of it.''
Barney Cotton, the running game coordinator who also coaches tight ends and the offensive line, will be Nebraska's interim head coach for the bowl.
With this being his last game for No. 25 Nebraska (9-3), Papuchis plans to be aggressive against quarterback Cody Kessler and the No. 24 Trojans (8-4).
''There's no real reason to be conservative, I guess,'' Papuchis said. ''I don't want to be stupid, either. We want to put our guys in the best possible scenario to be successful and let the game play out the way it's going to play out.''
Pelini brought Papuchis along with him from LSU, where he was a defensive intern and graduate assistant. Papuchis said he's grown as a coach and that he and his wife, Billie, enjoyed the experience.
''I walked in here excited, with my head high,'' Papuchis said, ''and I'm planning to leave the same way.''