May 18, 2024

The wait was worth it.

After toiling in the background for three seasons, dutifully working his way up from third-string while transfers came and went at his position, USC quarterback Miller Moss shined in his first career start, throwing for 372 yards and six touchdowns on 23-of-33 passing in USC’s 42-28 victory over No. 15 Louisville in the Holiday Bowl on Wednesday at Petco Park.

The redshirt sophomore’s touchdowns were the most ever thrown by a USC quarterback in his debut. He capped the performance with a pinpoint perfect 44-yard pass to Duce Robinson in the fourth quarter that had Moss looking toward the crowd with arms extended wide, soaking in his long-awaited time in the spotlight. Caleb Williams, who opted out of the bowl game, watched from the sideline.

Without key starters on offense and defense because of opt outs and transfers, USC (8-5) won its first bowl game since 2017 and ended a three-game losing streak.

After USC fell behind 7-0, allowing Louisville to march down the field on a 10-play, 71-yard opening touchdown drive, kicker Denis Lynch missed a 39-yard field goal and the Trojans looked like the same team that got embarrassed by UCLA six weeks ago.

It took a game-changing play from one of USC’s longest-tenured players to change the tide.

Redshirt senior safety Max Williams, playing in his final college game, sacked Louisville quarterback Jack Plummer and forced a fumble that Solomon Byrd recovered to set the Trojans up inside the red zone. Moss threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Tahj Washington three plays later, sparking four consecutive touchdown drives for the Trojans.

The offense alternated between long possessions with Moss lacing throws past defenders and short-strike scores that capitalized on momentum-shifting plays on special teams and defense. Halfway through the second quarter, Kyron Hudson blocked a punt to set the Trojans up at Louisville’s 18-yard line. Hudson then caught his first touchdown catch since Oct. 7 two plays later to give USC a 21-7 lead.

USC’s all-around performance was the best complimentary football the Trojans have played since at least the first half against Colorado on Sept. 30.

Fans gave the Trojans a standing ovation as the team ran into the locker room with a 28-14 lead and it felt appropriate that the USC marching band opened its halftime performance with Rihanna’s “Where Have You Been.” Trojan fans were asking that question for months.

USC limped into the bowl game with five losses in its last six games. The season that started with championship hopes ended with the team’s star quarterback on the sideline wearing a white T-shirt and jeans as Williams wore his red USC jersey like a scarf around his neck.

The Trojans gave him plenty to cheer about.

After Ja’Kobi Lane caught his second touchdown of the game from Moss over two Louisville defenders to extend USC’s lead to 35-21 with 4:51 left in the third quarter, Williams, the 2022 Heisman Trophy-winner, mimicked the freshman receiver’s touchdown celebration as if he were driving a car. Lane had 60 yards and two touchdowns — the first touchdowns of his USC career — on three catches.

The touchdown did just enough to quell Louisville’s early second half momentum after the Cardinals capitalized on Moss’ only major mistake of the game.

Moss, who threw three touchdown passes in his last six throws of the second quarter, had the Trojans on the doorstep of a commanding 21-point lead on their first possession of the second half. USC opened the third quarter with a three-and-out stop on defense, and Moss found tight end Carson Tabaracci — who was making his college debut with starter Lake McRee injured — for a 32-yard gain that got USC to the Louisville eight-yard line. Moss directed his next pass to Hudson in the end zone, but Louisville’s Quincy Riley jumped in front at the goal line for an interception.

He returned it 61 yards and the Cardinals, who were playing without their leading rusher and receiver, scored on a one-yard touchdown run from Isaac Guerendo six plays later.

But with the calm demeanor that won his teammates over in practice, Moss led the Trojans down the field with an 11-play, 53-yard drive that ended when he threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Lane.

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