In celebration of an otherwise uneventful season, USC said farewell to the Pac-12 Conference with a six-pack to-go and an eggnog bath.
In his first college start, Miller Moss tossed a Holiday Bowl-record six touchdown passes, and USC defeated No. 16 Louisville 42-28 on Wednesday night to cap a disappointing season, with Caleb Williams watching from the sidelines. Coach Lincoln Riley had his head drenched in an eggnog tub afterward.
Williams, who was the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner but chose not to play, observed the action from the sidelines while wearing his No. 13 jersey around his neck. When Moss twice took a knee in victory formation at Petco Park, the redshirt sophomore celebrated by running onto the pitch and jumping on him.
Some Trojans, including redshirt senior receiver Tahj Washington, who caught two touchdown passes, turned up to play while Williams and a few other players stayed home.
“From a leadership standpoint, we had a really strong senior group that wanted to come back and play this game and I think that was really led by them,” Moss stated. “They set the example, and it was easy for me to then fall in line behind them.”
Receiver Kyron Hudson, who only moments ago blocked a punt and then caught a touchdown pass, responded to a question about whether Moss had locked down the starting job for the next season by saying, “What Miller did out there, it’s something that’s going to help us in the future, so personally, yes he did. I’m super excited for Miller. He waited his time, and he’s ready for it. He’s the guy we need.”
Moss made the most of his chance when Williams, the likely first overall pick in the NFL draft, decided not to play.
For 372 yards, Moss completed 23 of 33 passes with one interception. He surpassed the four-player record most touchdown passes in a Holiday Bowl, which was held by Jim McMahon during BYU’s incredible 46-45 victory over SMU in 1980. When Moss threw a 12-yard throw to a leaping Ja’Kobi Lane in the end zone late in the third quarter, it set a record. With Lane’s second touchdown reception of the game, USC led 35–21.
With ten minutes remaining, Moss added a touchdown with a stunning 44-yard pass to Duce Robinson, giving the team a 42-28 lead.
In addition, the six touchdown passes were the most for a quarterback in his first start for USC (8-5), who had lost three out of the last four games and five of the previous six after starting the season with hopes of winning a national championship. They tied the Pac-12 bowl record and set a Trojans bowl record as well.
It was the Trojans’ last football game in the Pac-12. Together with UCLA, Oregon, and Washington, three other Pac-12 defectors, they will be playing in the Big Ten next season.
“We could have come into this game not caring about it,” Riley said. “Honestly, all the years and wins and stuff, this was as fun a win as I can remember as a head coach. Just with all the changes, all the back and forth, six weeks, 20-plus guys that didn’t play in this game for different reasons. … That’s a good football team that we just beat up on.”
For Louisville (10-4), Isaac Guerendo ran 23 times for 161 yards and three touchdowns. With no touchdowns, Jack Plummer completed 141 yards of passing. Early in the second quarter, Plummer dislocated his right pinky and had it pop back in. He said it had no impact on his throwing.
Additionally, Moss completed his first 1,000-yard receiving season with passes of 17 and 29 yards to Washington, who scored touchdowns. Two plays after stopping Brady Hodges’ punt, which ran out of bounds at the Cardinals’ 18, Hudson grabbed a 9-yard touchdown pass.
“They had a couple matchups of fast players on our safeties, and it just wasn’t one of our better days,” Louisville coach Jeff Brohm said. “A lot of those guys have played well all year long; today wasn’t their best day.”
Early in the third quarter, with the Trojans leading 28-14, Quincy Riley intercepted Moss at the goal line and returned it 61 yards to the USC 39. After five plays, the Cardinals were within a touchdown thanks to a 1-yard rush by Isaac Guerendo.
The game’s first possession for Louisville ended with a 2-yard run by Guerendo.
The Trojans regained control after Max Williams strip-sacked Plummer, with Solomon Byrd recovering at the Louisville 19, following Denis Lynch’s 38-yard field goal attempt that went wide right. To tie the score, Moss delivered a short throw to Washington, who ducked past two defenders and dove into the end zone.
After Moss found Washington for his second score pass, USC took a 21-7 lead thanks to a score by Hudson. Before USC ran 75 yards in five plays right before halftime, Evan Conley scored for Louisville on a 9-yard run. Moss then rolled right and hit Lane for a 31-yard pass, giving USC a 28-14 lead.
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