Minus Williams, Moss shatters Holiday Bowl TD-pass mark in USC win

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Thursday, December 28, 2023

SAN DIEGO -- USC bid farewell to the Pac-12 Conference with a six-pack to go and an eggnog bath to toast an otherwise unremarkable season.

With Caleb Williams watching from the sideline, Miller Moss threw a Holiday Bowl-record six touchdown passes in his first college start, and USC ended a frustrating campaign by beating No. 16 Louisville 42-28 on Wednesday night. Afterward, Trojans coach Lincoln Riley had a tub of eggnog poured over his head.

Williams, the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner who opted out of the game, watched from the sideline with his No. 13 jersey hanging around his neck. He ran onto the field and jumped on Moss in celebration after the redshirt sophomore twice took a knee in victory formation at Petco Park.

While Williams was among several Trojans who sat out, others showed up to play, such as redshirt senior wide receiver Tahj Washington, who caught two touchdown passes.

"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 said. "They set the example, and it was easy for me to then fall in line behind them."

Asked if Moss secured the starting quarterback job for next year, wideoutKyron Hudson, who blocked a punt then caught a scoring pass shortly thereafter, said: "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 took full advantage of the opportunity he was given when Williams, the presumptive first overall pick in the NFL draft, opted out.

Moss was 23-of-33 for 372 yards with one interception. He broke the Holiday Bowl record of four touchdown passes held by four players, including Jim McMahon inBYU's miracle 46-45 comeback win againstSMUin 1980. The milestone came late in the third quarter when Moss lobbed a 12-yard pass to a leaping Ja'Kobi Lane in the back of the end zone. Lane's second TD reception of the night gave USC a 35-21 lead.

Moss added on with a beautiful 44-yard scoring strike to Duce Robinson for a 42-28 lead with 10 minutes to go.

The six TD passes were also the most by a quarterback in his first start for USC (8-5), which had lost three straight games and five of six coming in after opening the campaign with national championship aspirations. The scoring tosses also were a Trojans bowl record and tied the Pac-12 bowl mark.

The Trojans played their final Pac-12 football game. They are joining the Big Ten next season, along with fellow Pac-12 defectorsUCLA, Oregon and Washington.

"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."

Isaac Guerendo ran 23 times for 161 yards and three touchdowns for Louisville (10-4). Jack Plummer threw for 141 yards with no touchdowns. The right-handed quarterback dislocated the pinky on his throwing hand early in the second quarter and had it popped back in. He said it didn't affect his throwing.

Moss also threw scoring passes of 17 and 29 yards to Washington, who completed his first 1,000-yard receiving season. Hudson caught a 9-yard touchdown pass two plays after blocking Brady Hodges' punt, which went out of bounds at the Cardinals' 18-yard line.

"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."

Leading 28-14, the Trojans were driving early in the third quarter when Moss was intercepted at the goal line by Quincy Riley, who returned it 61 yards to USC's 39-yard line. Five plays later, Guerendo scored on a 1-yard run to pull the Cardinals within a touchdown.

Guerendo had scored on a 2-yard run on Louisville's first possession of the game.

After USC kickerDenis Lynch was wide right on a 38-yard field goal try, the Trojans got the ball right back when Max Williams strip-sacked Plummer, with Solomon Byrd recovering at Louisville's 19-yard line. Moss threw a short pass to Washington, who deked two defenders before diving into the end zone to tie the score 7-7.

USC jumped to a 21-7 lead on Moss' second scoring pass to Washington and Hudson's subsequent TD. Evan Conley scored on a 9-yard run for Louisville before USC went 75 yards in five plays just before halftime, with Moss dodging a defender, rolling right and chucking up a 31-yarder to Lane for a 28-14 advantage.

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