Holiday Bowl buzzer file | FOX Sports

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SAN DIEGO — For each of the past two seasons, Miller Moss has spent nearly every day as Caleb Williams’ shadow. 

The USC sophomore has been a consummate backup quarterback, supporting the Heisman Trophy winner through the highs of last season to the various low points of this year’s disappointing 7-5 regular season. 

His playing time has mostly been fleeting in either blowouts or a rare injury situation, but he’s stuck around Lincoln Riley’s program when many others would have quickly opted to put their name in the transfer portal and find a much clearer path to the starting job.

Good things come to those who wait, however, as Moss so aptly showed in his first-ever collegiate start by leading the Trojans to an impressive 42-28 victory over ACC runner-up Louisville at the Holiday Bowl on Wednesday night. 

With Williams on the sidelines in very expensive street clothes as he looks ahead to potentially being the first pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, Moss dazzled with pinpoint passing and some remarkable throws few outside the coaching staff knew he was capable of making. All told, the young signal-caller completed 23 of 33 of his passes for 372 yards and six touchdowns to provide a nice spark for a team that had been on a three-game losing streak to end the regular season.

There has been plenty of speculation as to who Williams’ heir will be in Los Angeles at the quarterback position but, based on what Miller showed at Petco Park in the team’s bowl game, it may just be that the solution was the natural one who was right behind the dazzling signal-caller all along.

Here are some additional thoughts from San Diego after the Trojans’ big victory over the Cardinals: 

Miller Moss throws his sixth TD pass

Miller Moss throws his sixth TD pass

Play of the Game

You could pick just about any of Moss’ touchdown throws given the amount of skill displayed at both ends of each play, but special consideration has to be given to the first of the bunch. Much of that came down to receiver Tahj Washington, playing in the game despite declaring for the draft a few weeks ago, making the most out of something when he zigged, zagged and zoomed his way into the end zone for USC’s initial points. 

Miller Moss connects with Tahj Washington on a 17-yard TD

Miller Moss connects with Tahj Washington on a 17-yard TD

Washington wound up with seven catches for 99 yards and a total of two scores on the night to also put him over 1,000 yards on the season. 

Turning Point

Given the amount of scoring that went on Wednesday night, you wouldn’t think that a pair of punts would have proven to be a critical turning point in a college football game, but this is a postseason game in 2023 where all bets were off and strange things transpire.

The key sequence began early in the second quarter when Louisville’s Jeff Brohm opted to send out the punt team from the USC 36-yard line. Though it would have been a decently long fourth-down attempt, the field position and the fact that this was a bowl game sure left many Cardinals fans scratching their head over the thought of punting in plus territory like that. The ball wound up going through the very short end zone near the third-base line at Petco Park for a touchdown and the Trojans proceeded to march 80 yards for a touchdown in just five plays to take their first lead of the game. 

Following a three-and-out by the Louisville offense, the decision to punt again was far more understandable, yet the execution was not. USC’s Kyron Hudson wound up slicing through some poor protection to get a hand on the kick and partially block the punt to set up his offense in the red zone. Two plays later, the sophomore wound up being the one who took advantage of the special teams play by hauling in an impressive touchdown catch amid quite a bit of traffic. In addition to firing up the crowd, the sequence gave the Trojans a two-score lead and pretty much all of the momentum as they wound up finding the end zone on four straight drives.

Key stat

Miller’s six touchdown passes — four of which came in the first half — set a Holiday Bowl record and was tied for the most by a Pac-12 player in a bowl game. Not bad for his first start since high school.

What’s next for USC?

The Big Ten. Strange as it is to think about, the Holiday Bowl was the final time the iconic cardinal and gold uniforms will sport the Pac-12 logo on the jersey sleeves with the school’s upcoming conference change becoming reality in the summer. While much of Lincoln Riley’s past few weeks of recruiting and bowl preparation have had an eye on the change, the fact of the matter is that the Trojans can now start to call themselves a Big Ten program in practically everything they do moving forward. 

What’s next for Louisville?

Jeff Brohm’s debut campaign at his alma mater was a rousing success no matter how you look at it but much of the coaching staff’s attention will be on how to elevate the program further after their final three games of 2023 failed to turn out how they wanted. The Cardinals have a manageable schedule ahead next season and, in the upcoming 12-team College Football Playoff era, have every right to look at the expanded field as an opportunity given what returns from a team that made it to the ACC title game. Louisville has been frequently mentioned for several notable players out of the transfer portal the past few weeks and will no doubt be looking to land a few of them as they enter Year 2 under Brohm with significantly increased expectations. 

Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets such as NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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