Backup QB Throws Record 6 TD Passes as Trojans Roll 42-28
The USC Trojans closed out their time in the Pac-12 by dominating the #16 Louisville Cardinals 42-28 in the Holiday Bowl on Wednesday night. With Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams sidelined due to injury, backup quarterback Miller Moss stepped into the spotlight and delivered a record-setting performance.
Moss threw for 6 touchdown passes, breaking the previous Holiday Bowl record, as the Trojans raced out to a 35-7 halftime lead and never looked back. It was a statement win for USC in what may have been the last collegiate game for head coach Lincoln Riley as rumors swirl about his potential jump to the NFL.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this group,” Riley said in the post-game press conference. “To come out here and play one of the better teams in the country with our backup QB and still dominate says everything about our players and coaches.”
Moss Matches Williams in First Career Start
With Williams still weighing whether to declare for the NFL draft or return to USC next season, all eyes were on Moss as he made his first career start for the Trojans. The redshirt freshman had appeared briefly in 4 games this season, but Wednesday night was his time to run the show.
And did he ever. Moss completed 18 of 28 passes on the night, racking up 406 yards through the air with 6 touchdowns and no interceptions. As the table below shows, his statistics were nearly identical to what Williams had produced this season as a Heisman finalist:
*Williams’ season averages
“I’ve been preparing for this moment since I stepped on campus,” Moss said. “I have to give a ton of credit to Caleb and Coach Riley for getting me ready for this huge opportunity.”
WR Washington the Star of Highlight Reel Performance
While Moss delivered the record book performance, sophomore wide receiver Tahj Washington was his top target and repeatedly made spectacular plays. He finished with 7 catches for 130 yards and 3 touchdowns, including two first half touchdowns that blew the game open.
His second score was the early play of the game, as Washington caught a short pass from Moss and juked multiple defenders on his way to a 60 yard catch-and-run into the end zone. The electric run brought USC fans to their feet and put the Trojans up 21-0.
“Tahj really energized our team tonight,” Riley commented after the game. “That’s the kind of spark you hope for in these bowl games.”
But Washington was just one part of an offensive onslaught that seemed unstoppable. Future first-round NFL draft pick Jordan Addison had 7 catches of his own. Raleek Brown added 96 yards on the ground, and the Trojans gained a whopping 558 total yards compared to just 355 for Louisville.
With the game firmly in hand at 35-7, both coaching staffs agreed to play a running clock in the second half. But Moss still had time to add one more touchdown pass early in the third quarter before taking a seat to rest up for next season.
“I really wasn’t expecting to play this much tonight,” Moss admitted with a smile. “But once I got that first touchdown I knew I couldn’t come out of the game.”
Disaster Strikes for Louisville Behind Center
If the game was a coming out party for Moss and the Trojan offense, it was a nightmare for Louisville at the quarterback position. Opening day starter Malik Cunningham missed the game with shoulder and wrist injuries that hampered him all season. Backup Brock Domann also sat out the Holiday Bowl after entering the transfer portal earlier this month.
That left jack Plummer as the last man standing under center, and he struggled mightily. The Purdue transfer couldn’t find any rhythm as he completed just 17 of 35 passes for 180 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 ugly interceptions. Making matters worse, Plummer suffered a scary hit to the head in the second half and did not return.
The final indignity for Louisville came with backup QB Evan Conley directing a late 4th quarter scoring drive, only for the extra point to be blocked by Trojan lineman Tyrone Taleni. It perfectly capped a quarter to forget for the Cardinals after they had upset #10 Wake Forest earlier in December.
“You just can’t win many games with quarterback play like that,” Louisville coach Scott Satterfield admitted. “But tip your caps to USC tonight. They clearly outplayed us in every phase.”
What Comes Next for Both Programs?
While the Trojans end their season at 11-3 and focus shifts to who may leave for the NFL draft, the future is cloudier for Louisville. As a member of the struggling ACC, their conference schedule does them no favors in competing nationally.
There is also ongoing speculation about Satterfield’s job security. Despite upsetting Wake Forest, the Cardinals finished just 8-5 on the year. And with the mistakes that doomed them tonight, it amplifies criticism of Satterfield’s leadership. Multiple sources have suggested he could resign or be fired as soon as this week.
As for Lincoln Riley’s future, he continues to play coy but NFL rumors persist. With former Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams expected to turn pro, it removes one big reason for Riley to stay at USC. And given his close relationship with Williams, Riley could look to coach him again at the professional level.
For now Riley continues recruiting at a high level for the Trojans. But the minute the NFL regular season ends, watch for a bidding war to commence for his services. One lucky NFL team will likely make him an offer he can’t refuse.
After the game Riley insisted he remains “focused on this USC team and where we go from here.” But Trojan fans know this movie before, and how it ended when he suddenly bolted Oklahoma. Everything could change depending on which NFL jobs open up in the coming weeks.
So while the Trojans can bask in the glow of this dominant bowl victory, anxiety lurks below the surface. Because no one knows whether it was the last time Riley roams the USC sideline. And there likely won’t be answers until the NFL sorts itself out with looming head coach vacancies.
For now enjoy Miller Moss’ coming out party and a final Pac-12 triumph. The future in 2023 holds plenty of intrigue and uncertainty for both programs after tonight’s Holiday Bowl fireworks.
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