SAN DIEGO — USC bid farewell to the Pac-12 Conference with a six-pack and an eggnog path.
With Caleb Williams watching from the sidelines, Miller Moss threw a Holiday Bowl-record six touchdown passes in his first collegiate start and USC ended a disappointing campaign with a 42-28 win over No. 16 Louisville on Wednesday night. Afterward, Trojans coach Lincoln Riley poured eggnog on his head.
Williams, the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner, walked out of the game, watching from the sidelines with his No. 13 jersey hanging around his neck. After the redshirt sophomore took a knee twice in the win at Petco Park, he ran onto the field and jumped on Moss in celebration.
While Williams was among several Trojans sitting out, others were playing, like redshirt senior wide receiver Taj Washington, who caught two touchdown passes.
“From a leadership standpoint, we had a 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 precedent, and then it was easy for me to get behind them.”
When asked if Moss earned the starting job next year, Kyron Hudson, who blocked a punt and caught a scoring pass shortly after, said: “What Miller did there, it's going to help us in the future, personally, yes, he did. I'm very excited about Miller. He's bided his time and he's ready for it. He's the guy we need.”
When Williams, the first overall pick in the NFL draft, went undrafted, Moss took full advantage of his opportunity.
Moss was 23-of-33 for 372 yards with an interception. He broke the Holiday Bowl record of four touchdown passes held by four players, including Jim McMahon, in BYU's 46-45 miracle against SMU in 1980. Moss threw a 12-yard pass late in the third quarter. Jacoby Lane in the back of the end zone. Lane's second TD catch gave USC a 35-21 lead.
Moss added a beautiful 44-yard strike to Deuce Robinson for a 42-28 lead with 10 minutes left.
The six TD passes were the most by a quarterback in his first start for USC (8-5), which has lost three straight games and lost five of six after starting the year with national championship enthusiasm. They tied the Trojans' bowl record and Pac-12 bowl record.
The Trojans played their last Pac-12 football game. They join the Big Ten next season, along with Pac-12 exits UCLA, Oregon and Washington.
“We probably came into this game not worried about that,” Riley said. “Honestly, all the years and the wins and stuff, it's been as fun as I can remember as a head coach. With all the changes, back and forth, six weeks, 20-plus guys who didn't play for different reasons in this game. … It's a good football team, we We defeated it.”
Isaac Guerredo rushed 23 times for 161 yards and three touchdowns for Louisville (10-4). Jack Plummer threw for 141 yards and no touchdowns. Plummer dislocated his right pinky early in the second quarter and reabsorbed it. He said it didn't affect his throwing.
Moss also threw scoring passes of 17 and 29 yards for Washington, who completed his first 1,000-yard receiving season. Hudson caught a 9-yard touchdown pass two plays after intercepting a Brady Hodges punt that went out of bounds at the Cardinals' 18.
“They got a matchup of two fast players on our defense and it wasn't one of our best days,” Louisville coach Jeff Brohm said. “A lot of them have played well all year; 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 the USC 39. Five plays later, Isaac Kurendo scored on a 1-yard run. Pull the Cardinals within a touchdown.
Curendo scored on a 2-yard run on Louisville's first possession.
After Dennis Lynch went wide on a 38-yard field goal attempt, the Trojans got the ball back when Max Williams strip-sacked Plummer, which Solomon Byrd recovered at the Louisville 19. Moss threw a short pass to Washington, who scored two. defenders before diving into the end zone to tie the game.
Moss' second scoring pass to Washington and then Hudson's score gave USC a 21-7 lead. Evan Conley had a 9-yard run for Louisville before USC went 75 yards in five plays before Moss knocked off a defender and rolled right to the lane for a 31-yarder to make it 28-14.