USC’s final shot at making at least the score respectable ended on yet another poorly thrown Max Wittek pass and another nice play by Georgia Tech Quayshawn Nealy.
The only difference this time was that instead of Wittek’s pass hitting Nealy in the chest, the linebacker leaped up to tip the pass and Jamal Charles came up with the interception.
Georgia Tech then ran out the clock for its 21-7 win, which ended a seven-game bowl losing streak.
Wittek completed 14 of 37 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown with three interceptions. All-American Marqise Lee had six catches for just 41 yards. Silas Redd ran for 88 yards in 17 carries.
USC, which was ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press preseason poll, finished with a record of 7-6.
Georgia Tech, which had to petition the NCAA to play in a bowl game with a losing record, finished with a record of 7-7.
David Sims ran for 99 yards for the Yellow Jackets, which held a 289-98 edge over the Trojans in rushing.
Well, it’s a little late now, but ... Cody Kessler anyone?
USC was showing a pulse, having driven inside the Georgia Tech 10 yard line, until quarterback Max Wittek’s really, really bad day got a little worse.
Wittek, given plenty of time, tried to force a pass between defenders to Robert Woods sprinting along the backside of the end zone.
But the pass inside found the chest of Georgia Tech linebacker Quayshawn Nealy.
Wittek, a redshirt freshman making his second career start, has completed 13 of 31 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions.
Backup Kessler has not played.
USC’s lowest point total in a game to date was 13 against top-ranked Notre Dame.
Unranked Georgia Tech, which needed a special waiver from the NCAA to play in a bowl game with a losing record, has held the Trojans to seven points.
USC has the ball on its own 29, down two touchdowns, with 8 minutes 37 seconds left in regulation.
Georgia Tech 21, USC 7 (13:11 left in fourth quarter)
Georgia Tech had a 14-point lead last year in the Sun Bowl against Utah and couldn’t hold it, losing in overtime.
Its chances of holding on against USC look a lot better.
Quarterback Tevin Washington just connected with Orwin Smith on a 17-yard scoring play to cap a nine-play, 62-yard drive.
The drive started with the Yellow Jackets’ other quarterback, Vad Lee, completing a 27-yard pass to Jeremy Moore.
After seven consecutive runs, Washington hit Smith at about the 10 yardline and Smith broke Nickell Robey’s tackle attempt at about the five.
Georgia Tech’s defense is dominating USC. The Trojans don’t have a first down in the second half with the third quarter almost over, and they couldn’t even capitalize on another Georgia Tech turnover.
After yet another three-plays-and-out possession and during yet another low, short Kyle Negrete punt, USC got a big break on a heads up play by freshman Nelson Agholor.
Agholor was running alongside Georgia Tech’s Demond Smith with Negrete’s punt grazed Smith’s shoulder. Agholor sprinted to the ball and grabbed it just before Yellow Jackets return man Jamal Golden got there.
Agholor’s recovery gave USC the ball at the Georgia Tech 44.
Two runs by Silas Redd netted four yards. A pass from Max Wittek to Redd earned three more yards.
On fourth-and-three, a Wittek pass was batted down and Georgia Tech’s 14-7 lead was still safe.
It doesn’t do USC any good to have two of the best receivers in college football when the Trojans can’t get them the ball.
Midway through the third quarter, Marqise Lee has three catches for 33 yards -- with a long of 23.
Robert Woods also has three catches -- one for 17 yards and the other two for a total of one yard.
Anticipating the question of some USC fans, quarterback Max Browne, the Gatorade high school player of the year from Skyline High in Washington, plans to enroll in college early and will be competing in spring practice.
Not sure why you might be wondering about that right now, but just so you know...
Georgia Tech 14, USC 7 (12:23 left in third quarter)
USC’s choice to punt low so the kick didn’t get knocked down by the wind just backfired.
After a three-plays-and-out first possession of the second half, Kyle Negrete’s short punt was gathered in by Jamal Golden at the Georgia Tech 43 and returned all the way to the one yard line.
Tevin Washington scored on keeper from there.
Some halftime numbers from the Sun Bowl:
Georgia Tech leads in total offense, 167-116.
Max Wittek has completed seven of 13 passes for 58 yards with a touchdown and an interception for USC.
The Trojans’ leading rusher is Silas Redd, who has 48 yards in 10 carries.
Vad Lee leads Georgia Tech. He’s completed two of four passes for 26 yards and a touchdown with an interception, and he has run for 54 yards in nine carries.
USC 7, Georgia Tech 7 (49 seconds left in second quarter)
The ball bounced right -- twice -- for USC and Silas Redd.
With USC at the Georgia Tech four yardline, Redd fumbled on a run, but the ball bounced right back to him and the Trojans were lucky with a five-yard loss.
Then, after a timeout -- Coach Lane Kiffin surely needed time to scheme one of his famous red-zone scoring plays -- a swing pass from Max Wittek popped off Redd and into the air, but the running back hauled it back in and dove just inside the right pylon for a touchdown.
Redd carried four times for 27 yards on the scoring drive. Wittek completed two of four passes for 32 yards.
Georgia Tech and Vad Lee should probably stick to passing.
And Max Wittek? Well, the USC quarterback needs to learn to not stare down intended receivers.
USC linebacker Lamar Dawson gave the Trojans great field position by picking off a Lee pass at the USC 47 and returning it to the Georgia Tech 33.
But after a short run by Silas Redd and an offside penalty, Wittek gave it right back, with Rod Sweeting coming up with an interception for Georgia Tech.
Fortunately for USC, the Yellow Jackets didn’t have it for long.
Trojans defensive end Morgan Breslin hit Lee from behind and Wes Horton recovered a fumble.
These teams look worthy of the second-tier bowl game they’re playing in.
Curtis McNeal is into the game for USC.
And the fourth time he touched the ball, he nearly turned it over.
McNeal ran twice for no gain and gained five yards on another run.
Then he took in a swing pass from Max Wittek, bobbled it, and then, after taking three strides, dropped it and Georgia Tech recovered near midfield.
On-field officials ruled a fumble, but after a video review it was determined that McNeal never fully had possession of the ball.
So USC got to punt instead.
The Trojans have 56 yards.
And you thought defense was USC’s problem.
Georgia Tech 7, USC 0 (10:41 left in second quarter)
Vad Lee has the Georgia Tech offense going.
His three-yard pass to David Sims has just punctuated a 14-play scoring drive.
Lee rolled to his left on the play and the defense followed him. Sims was wide open for only his second pass reception of the season.
Weird stat of the game so far: Georgia Tech has already run the ball with eight different players.
Lee clearly is a more dangerous runner than the starter, Trevin Washington.
At the end of the first quarter there is no score.
Georgia Tech, which has lost seven consecutive bowl games, has outgained USC, 70-34.
Silas Redd has been USC’s only tailback so far. No Curtis McNeal.
USC hasn’t taken advantage of the wind at its back in the first quarter.
The Trojans have just 34 total yards. Max Wittek has completed three of five passes for nine yards.
USC’s defense was shredded by a couple of redshirt freshman quarterbacks in Pac-12 play.
Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Brett Hundley of UCLA both had big games against the Trojans.
Now Georgia Tech is trying theirs.
Vad Lee took over at quarterback for the Yellow Jackets on their third possession, and he gave them an immediate jolt, gaining 24 yards in a run on his first play.
Then it was back to same-old, same-old. Three more runs netted a loss of seven yards as USC’s linebackers are showing the kind of speed and discipline that thwarts option offenses.
USC’s Andre Heidari was just given credit for making a 38-yard field goal by game officials, but that won’t last long.
The kick spun wide right -- wasn’t even close, really.
That’s an embarrassing miss by an official standing right under the post.
Even Heidari knew he missed it.
The call will be overturned.
The officiating crew is from the Big Ten Conference.
USC’s defense seems to be much better suited to stop the triple option that it was the spread offenses it saw from Pac-12 opponents.
Georgia Tech managed a first down on its second possession, but the Trojans are clearly in charge of the line of scrimmage.
And the Yellow Jackets’ punt was shanked, so USC will take over at the Georgia Tech 41.
USC didn’t go anywhere on its first possession, either.
Max Wittek passed twice -- both toward Robert Woods -- but they sailed high and fell incomplete.
Kyle Negrete’s punt went for 65 yards to the one yardline.
Note to whichever team is downwind: best to fair catch those punts. The wind blows the ball on the ground, too.
So far so good for the USC defense.
Georgia Tech’s first three plays netted one yard.
USC’s ball on its own 32.
USC won the coin toss but deferred. The Trojans will have the ball first to start the second half.
One of the greatest shows of strength at the Sun Bowl today was probably just turned in by the guy who runs in with the the “GT” flag for Georgia Tech.
With the wind howling, the pole holding the flag was bent to almost a U, but the guy made it the length of the field anyway.
Impressive. But now he looks really gassed.
USC receiver Marqise Lee and running back Curtis McNeal went through warm-ups and appear ready
Two days ago, Lee suffered an apparent knee injury that forced him to sit out most of practice.
The Biletnikoff Award winner has caught a school-record 112 passes, 14 for touchdowns.
McNeal had been held out of most of the Trojans last two practices.
Silas Redd will start for USC at tailback.
The weatherman was right: The wind is very, very gusty on the field, which probably works in favor of ground-oriented Georgia Tech.
The CBS cameraman in the south end zone looks like he is ready for trip to Antarctica, and he might not be warm enough with the wind coming right at him.
As noted in the game preview, USC has passed the ball 694 times this season, Georgia Tech only 281.
Georgia Tech Coach Paul Johnson is no doubt pleased with the conditions.
About 45 minutes before kickoff at the Sun Bowl, and cornerback Torin Harris and center Abe Markowitz are not on the field warming up.
A USC spokesman declined to give the reason, but said Coach Lane Kiffin would address the situation after the game.
Klein is reporting from El Paso, Texas; Hiserman from Los Angeles.
USC was awaiting final grades in the days leading up to the Sun Bowl.