USC stunned as Tulane pulls off historic comeback in the Cotton Bowl

Tulane players and coaches celebrate immediately after defeating USC in the Cotton Bowl.
Tulane players and coaches celebrate immediately after defeating USC in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Monday.
(Sam Hodde / Associated Press)

Despite five touchdown passes by Caleb Williams, USC could not hold on as Tulane storms back for a 46-45 victory in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas, on Monday.

Alex Bauman’s touchdown catch gives Tulane stunning win

Confetti is blown in the air after the Cotton Bowl NCAA college football game.
Tulane players and fans celebrate on the field after defeating USC in the Cotton Bowl on Monday.
(Sam Hodde / Associated Press)

Sixteen points in the final 4:03 of the Cotton Bowl.

That’s what it took for USC to turn a 45-30 advantage into a stunning 46-45 defeat at the hands of the Green Wave.

The final blow was a six-yard touchdown pass by Michael Pratt to Alex Bauman with nine seconds to go. With the ensuing extra point, Tulane (12-2) stormed all the way back to win the Cotton Bowl.

USC (11-3) dropped its second straight game despite a Cotton Bowl record five touchdown passes by Caleb Williams and holding a 15-point lead with 4:30 to go, the Trojans’ first bowl win in six years seemingly within sight.

Instead, USC allowed Tyjae Spears’ fourth touchdown only 23 seconds later. Then, a fumbled kickoff pinned the Trojans at their 1-yard line, leading to a safety. And after Tulane got the ball back on the ensuing free kick, the Green Wave went 66 yards in 12 plays to score the winning touchdown.

USC’s last-ditch drive came up short, and Tulane secured its first bowl win since the 2019 season.


Tulane safety trims USC’s lead late in fourth quarter

Tulane fans cheer during the first half at the Cotton Bowl.
(Sam Hodde / Associated Press)

USC is hanging on for dear life.

After Tulane scored quickly to cut the Trojans’ lead to eight points, USC’s Mario Williams fumbled the ensuing kickoff out of bounds at the 1-yard line. After Austin Jones was tackled for no gain, Jones was tackled in the end zone by Patrick Jenkins for a safety to make it 45-39 with 3:20 to go in the fourth quarter.


Tyjae Spears’ fourth touchdown draws Tulane closer

Tulane running back Tyjae Spears carries the ball in the first half against USC.
(Sam Hodde / Associated Press)

It only took Tulane 23 seconds to answer USC’s last score.

Tyjae Spears punched in his fourth touchdown of the day, this time on a four-yard run, with 4:06 to go to trim USC’s lead to 45-37.

Spears, who fumbled earlier in the quarter, has 16 carries for 195 yards.


Denis Lynch field goal adds to USC’s lead

A 43-yard field goal by Denis Lynch gave USC a 45-30 advantage with 4:30 to go in the fourth quarter.

The drive was set up after Solomon Byrd recovered a fumble by Tulane running back Tyjae Spears with 10:46 to go in the fourth quarter. The ball was jarred loose by the Trojans’ Mekhi Blackmon.


Caleb Williams’ fifth touchdown pass extends USC’s lead

There’s a reason Caleb Williams won the Heisman.

The USC quarterback directed another scoring drive that was capped by his four-yard touchdown pass to Kyron Hudson that put the Trojans up 42-30 with 12:09 to go in the fourth quarter. It was his fifth scoring pass of the game, a Cotton Bowl record.

Williams has 418 yards on 31-of-45 passing.


Tyjae Spears’ third touchdown keeps Tulane close

Tyjae Spears cannot be stopped.

The Tulane running back took another direct snap near the goal into the end zone to pull the Green Wave to within 35-30 of the Trojans with 40 seconds to go in the third quarter. (A two-point conversion pass failed.) Earlier in the drive, Spears had a 47-yard scamper.

Spears has 152 yards rushing on 13 carries to go with his three touchdowns.


Caleb Williams-Brenden Rice combination hits paydirt for the Trojans

Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams (13) runs with the ball during the first half.
USC quarterback Caleb Williams scrambles against Tulane in the first half.
(Sam Hodde / Associated Press)

Brenden Rice struck again.

The USC wide receiver made another acrobatic play along the sideline on a pass by Caleb Williams to complete a 19-yard touchdown reception that gave the Trojans a 35-24 lead with 1:24 to go in the third quarter.

Rice has six catches for 174 yards (a career high) and two touchdowns against Tulane.


Tulane field goal trims USC’s lead further

The game continues to tighten in the third quarter.

Valentino Ambrosio converted a 42-yard field goal with 4:02 left in the third quarter to make it 28-24 in favor of USC.

The Green Wave moved into position to score for the second time in the quarter after the Trojans’ Denis Lynch missed on a 52-yard field goal attempt, giving Tulane good field position.


Tulane opens second half with touchdown drive to pull closer

Tulane put itself back in the game to open the second half.

The Green Wave went 76 yards in seven plays, capped off by a seven-yard run by Tyjae Spears that cut USC’s lead to 28-21 with 11:55 to go in the third quarter.

It was the second touchdown for Spears, who is up to 84 yards rushing on 10 carries and had a 47-yard run on the drive.


Brenden Rice touchdown catch extends USC’s lead

Brenden Rice is having himself a day.

Rice — who earlier connected with Caleb Williams on a highlight catch after a long scramble — made two receptions late in the first half, including one for a four-yard touchdown with 12 seconds to go in the second quarter to give USC a 28-14 advantage over Tulane.

That increased Rice’s tally to four receptions for 81 yards.

In the first half, Williams was 20 of 29 passing for 253 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.


Trojans strike back, retake lead on Raleek Brown touchdown run

USC running back Raleek Brown carries the ball in the first half against Tulane.
(Sam Hodde / Associated Press)

A first half of big plays continues.

The Trojans regained the lead on a 39-yard touchdown run by Raleek Brown with 2:21 to go in the first half to give USC a 21-14 advantage.

After Tulane scored touchdowns on consecutive possessions in the second quarter, the Trojans went 75 yards in six plays. Thanks to his touchdown run, Brown is up to 52 yards rushing on three carries. Caleb Williams is up to 190 yards on 16-of-25 passing.


Caleb Williams interceptions leads to Tulane touchdown drive

And just like that, the Cotton Bowl is tied.

After Tulane defensive back Jarius Monroe intercepted a pass by Caleb Williams at the Tulane 8 one play after Monroe had been called for pass interference, the Green Wave needed only two plays to get in the end zone.

Jha’Quan Jackson took a pass over the middle from Michael Pratt and took off down the right sideline to complete the 87-yard scoring play and tie the score at 14 with 5:42 to go in the first half.

The Trojans also held a 14-point lead early in the second quarter of the Pac-12 championship game (leading Utah 17-3) before their opponent caught up late in the first half.


Tulane responds with touchdown drive

Tulane is on the board and back in the Cotton Bowl.

Tyjae Spears took a direct snap three yards and rushed into the end zone to make it 14-7 in favor of USC with 9:30 to go in the first half.

The Green Wave, which only had possession for 3:12 in the first quarter and had yet to touch the ball in the second quarter, moved 75 yards in eight plays.


Trojans add to their lead on Caleb Williams’ touchdown pass

Two possessions for USC, two touchdowns.

Caleb Williams hit Terrell Bynum for a three-yard touchdown pass to give the Trojans a 14-0 lead with 12:33 to go in the second quarter.

Williams had his left hand looked at in between possessions, according to the ESPN broadcast, appeared no worse for wear on USC’s second drive, moving the team 95 yards on 12 plays. Among the highlights: a 59-yard pass to Tahj Washington from the USC 11, and a 30-yard pass to Brenden Rice after a holding penalty had pushed the Trojans back to the Tulane 31.

Through the two possessions, Williams has passed for 154 yards and two touchdowns while completing 11 of 18 pass attempts.


Michael Jackson III touchdown caps off Trojans’ opening drive

The Trojans made their opening drive count.

Taking up more than nine minutes, USC took the game’s opening kickoff and went 75 yards in 17 plays, capped off by a nine-yard touchdown reception by Michael Jackson III with 5:58 to go in the first quarter.

Caleb Williams went 5 for 8 for 45 yards passing on the opening drive while also carrying three times for 10 yards — including a two-yard run on fourth-and-1.


USC defensive coordinator Alex Grinch won’t sugarcoat defense’s struggles

USC defensive coordinator Alex Grinch watches from the sideline during a win over Cal on Nov. 5.
(Brian Rothmuller / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

DALLAS — Alex Grinch isn’t the kind to sugarcoat. It’s part of the reason, players say, that the USC defensive coordinator commands respect. He shoots it straight. Even if it means putting himself in the crosshairs.

So when he was asked Thursday to take stock of what he accomplished with USC’s defense in his first season as coordinator, Grinch stepped into the line of fire once again.

“The answer is, ‘Not enough,’” he said. “You’re charged with having a championship-level defense at USC. You signed up for that. We played good enough defense 11 times. We didn’t play good enough defense two times, but I don’t take a lot of solace in that. We were expected to have a championship-level defense, and we weren’t able to do that in the ‘22 season.”

Those shortcomings were laid bare in its Pac-12 title defeat as USC gave up 533 yards and a season-high 47 points to Utah in what was easily its worst tackling performance of the season. Ever since, any finger-pointing from outside the program has trained on USC’s coordinator and the direction he’s taken the Trojans defense.

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USC’s offensive line bracing for the ‘harsh reality’ that awaits in 2023

USC offensive lineman Justin Dedich lines up during a win over UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 19.
USC offensive lineman Justin Dedich lines up during a win over UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 19. Dedich probably will be one of only two returning offensive line starters for the Trojans next season.
(Ric Tapia / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

After five years together, Justin Dedich hadn’t given much consideration to the fact that one day two staples of USC’s offensive line would be gone. After all the games playing alongside Brett Neilon and Andrew Vorhees, all the practices and meetings and random outings spent together, it always felt as if he’d have one more.

But Neilon, the Trojans longtime center, was carted off the field with an injury in the Pac-12 title game, and Vorhees, having battled nagging injuries all season, bowed out of the bowl to prepare for the NFL draft. Suddenly, there was no last hurrah and Dedich was playing center ahead of the Cotton Bowl, and Jonah Monheim had kicked inside to guard. An era had ended without warning.

“This is it,” Dedich said with a sigh. “It’s a harsh reality you gotta face. I’m glad we have a new group, and we’re playing well together, but those are my brothers. It makes me sad. It does.”

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USC strength coach Bennie Wylie teaching players toughness through life lessons

USC strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie runs on to the football field.
USC strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie runs on to the football field.
(Courtesy of USC Athletics)

Everything Bennie Wylie would ever learn about toughness, every lesson he would one day try to pass down as USC strength and conditioning coach, started first with his mother.

Velvia Wylie was always grinding, working as many as three jobs in their small town of Mexia, Texas, just to make ends meet. Whatever it took to care for her three kids, whatever it took to protect them, she did without hesitation. She never complained either. Barely even raised her voice. “I never heard her use a cuss word my whole life,” Wylie says.

Everything would be OK, she always assured her youngest son, even when it wasn’t clear it would be. “She was an angel who walked the earth,” Wylie says now.

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‘We were the greatest team ever.’ Anthony Davis, 1972 USC Trojans savor their legacy

USC running back Anthony Davis holds a newspaper telling of his six touchdowns against Notre Dame on Dec. 6, 1972.
(Wally Fong / Associated Press)

Fifty years after the game that changed his life, Anthony Davis sits in an office surrounded by a museum of his USC memorabilia, wondering what might’ve been if his biggest moment never materialized.

The six touchdowns Davis scored on Notre Dame that day in December 1972 would go down as one of the greatest single-game performances in college football history, the piece de resistance of a storybook ’72 season for USC that still ranks among the best the sport has ever seen. On that particular subject, there’s no debating with Davis, whose infamous swagger as a star Trojan running back remains very much intact at 70 years old.

“We set the standard. No one has lived to that standard yet,” Davis declared.

Not even the 2004 Trojans with Reggie Bush? Davis shakes his head. He wonders if the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who finished 17-0 that NFL season, could keep up.

“Pound for pound, we were the best team ever,” he says.

The front page of the Los Angeles Times sports section from Dec. 3, 1972, highlighting USC running back Anthony Davis
The front page of the Los Angeles Times sports section from Dec. 3, 1972, highlighting USC running back Anthony Davis’ six touchdowns against Notre Dame.
(Los Angeles Times)

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Viral sensation USC Cardinal Divas strive to ‘create a Black space for Black women’

Kyla-Drew Simmons performs with the Cardinal Divas during the USC-Arizona State game Oct. 1 at the Coliseum.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Princess Lang pressed send on her innocent tweet. If she got 50 likes on this simple, seven-second video clip of her dancing, the junior majoring in musical theater at USC would feel so famous.

The notifications that followed nearly buzzed a phone-shaped hole into her friend’s couch cushion.

More than 3 million views and 104,000 likes streamed in on the video of Lang dancing in the front row at the Coliseum with a newly formed majorette team during USC’s football game against Fresno State. Her curly, shoulder-length hair bounced with every arm movement. A bright smile lit up her face.

“The Cardinal Divas of SC are UP NEXT,” the tweet said.

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Caleb Williams still coming to grips with being a Heisman Trophy winner

Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams holds the Heisman Trophy after winning the award.
USC quarterback Caleb Williams holds the Heisman Trophy after becoming the eighth player in Trojans history to win the award on Dec. 10.
(Todd Van Emst / Associated Press)

From the moment he lifted the iconic trophy last Saturday night, Caleb Williams hasn’t had much time to let the reality of his Heisman win sink in, let alone get the sleep he so desperately needs.

USC’s star quarterback — and the school’s record eighth Heisman winner — has been running on fumes from that night’s adrenaline rush. And there was no respite once he returned from New York. Not even winning the most coveted award in all of college sports could get Williams out of finals, for which he spent all of Monday through Wednesday this week cramming.

“To be in that moment, no matter how much sleep I had,” Williams said, “I was really grateful.”

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USC’s Eric Gentry feeling confident and healthy ahead of Cotton Bowl

USC linebacker Eric Gentry runs on the field during a win over Oregon State in September.
USC linebacker Eric Gentry runs on the field during a win over Oregon State in September. Gentry says the mid-season ankle sprain he sustained was still causing him issues even after his return to the field.
(Amanda Loman / Associated Press)

Eleven weeks after he burst from the injury tent in Utah on a severely sprained ankle, hopping his way into USC’s defensive huddle for an impassioned, impromptu speech, Eric Gentry said his ailing ankle was finally back to normal.

The USC sophomore linebacker still gutted his way through games against Notre Dame and Utah at the end of the season, never letting on that the injury was still seriously bothering him. But Gentry acknowledged he wasn’t the same when he returned from a four-game absence.

“[The injury] was way worse than people understood,” Gentry said. “And it was a mental toll, just trying to fight back. It was really hard not being able to play against UCLA. Notre Dame, it was bothering. Utah, it was bothering. Just maybe, like, two weeks ago, it started to feel like I was 100% able to plant off of it and do stuff. I won’t make excuses for the performance or any of that, but getting back the confidence with my ankle is helping me with my play, being able to tackle, being able to burst with speed, stuff like that.”

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Meet USC’s most fashionable and viral sensation: kicker Denis Lynch

USC kicker Denis Lynch hits a field goal in the game against the Fresno State at the Coliseum on Sept. 17.
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)

The spelling on the shirt didn’t matter, only that it looked cool. So Denis Lynch bought it.

The red-headed redshirt freshman’s thinking behind a soon-to-be viral outfit is as simple as the slogan printed on the black T-shirt he wore into a game against Fresno State. The straight-forward phrase easily captures the USC kicker’s unique influence on campus.

“I’m Dennis doing Dennis things.”

With his meme-able fashion statements and consistent kicking, Lynch has grown into an unexpected favorite on a championship-contending team. The roster has enough multi-starred recruits to fill the sky during a Pac-12 after dark game, yet fans are celebrating an unassuming 5-foot-8 kicker with freckles and a curly mop of red hair every week in hopes of getting Lynch a scholarship.

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USC football transfer portal tracker: Who is in and who is out?

It’s portal season!

A 45-day window for college football players to enter the transfer portal opened Dec. 5, and the movement has been swift.

As players contemplate their next destination, coaches are making wish lists and snatching up new arrivals to bolster their rosters.

Who’s joining USC?

Arizona State place kicker Eddie Czaplicki punts in the second half against Colorado.
Arizona State place kicker Eddie Czaplicki punts in the second half against Colorado on Oct. 29, in Boulder, Colo.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

P Eddie Czaplicki

Size: 6-1, 200

Class in 2023: Junior

Seasons of eligibility remaining: Two

Buzz: A two-year starting punter for Arizona State, Czaplicki was named All-Pac-12 as a sophomore. He verbally committed to USC on Dec. 10 after leading the Pac-12 in punt average at 46.06 yards per punt with a long of 75 yards.

OLB Jamil Muhammad

Size: 6-2, 245

Class in 2023: Redshirt senior

Seasons of eligibility remaining: Two

Buzz: Muhammad could be a valuable playmaker up front for a much-maligned USC defense. He led Georgia State in sacks with six in 2021 and tallied a team-high eight quarterback hurries in 2022 along with 44 tackles, an interception and five tackles for loss. Muhammad originally signed with Vanderbilt but transferred to Georgia State in 2019 and took a redshirt year.

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Pac-12 ultimate travel guide: Where we love to eat, sleep, have fun and watch football

The Times' college beat writers have recommendations while traveling in our Pac-12 roadtrip guide.
(Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)

Before UCLA and USC leave the Pac-12 in 2024, fans have a chance to hit the road and check out the conference’s best outposts.

Our panel of four college sports writers have traversed Pac-12 country for years, arriving early and leaving late. They explored the Arizona desert, mountains of Utah and Colorado and vast landscape along the Pacific coast.

We’ve ranked every Pac-12 city and shared hidden gems that help convert them from quick game-day getaways to ultimate road trip weekends.

We omitted the Los Angeles schools from our rankings because it’s too difficult to evaluate the place we live as a road trip. However, we included L.A. recommendations in our guide in case you’re hosting out of town visitors or planning a visit.

Will Pacific Northwest gem Seattle rank No. 1 or will the elite mountain town of Boulder, Colo., take the top spot? And how much will one sports writer’s love of a Washington winery skew our rankings?

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USC eager to atone for defensive lapses with a stingy Cotton Bowl performance

USC defensive back Calen Bullock celebrates after making a tackle against Washington State on Oct. 8.
USC defensive back Calen Bullock celebrates after making a tackle against Washington State on Oct. 8. USC’s struggles on defense played a big role in the Trojans’ Pac-12 title game loss.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Three weeks later, it all still haunts Alex Grinch. The missed tackles, the dropped interceptions, the blown lead.

The defensive collapse against Utah that cost USC a Pac-12 championship and its spot in the College Football Playoff is still fresh in the defensive coordinator’s mind.

“We didn’t finish,” Grinch said Thursday after practice. “And we haven’t done that for 13 games, by and large. It didn’t hurt us in 11 of them and it hurt us in two and that’s why we’re not champions right now. So it’s really disappointing and sometimes you gotta lose a game to maybe land the message but man, championship ball games, you don’t get a lot of those opportunities.”

The Trojans get a chance to atone for their defensive sins by finishing their season on a positive note against Tulane in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2.

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Caleb Williams eager to lead USC in Cotton Bowl: ‘I want to play with my guys’

USC quarterback Caleb Williams throws a pass during a Cotton Bowl practice session on Thursday.
(Sam Hodde / Associated Press)

ARLINGTON, Texas — His limp would linger long after USC’s Pac-12 title game heartbreak, the pain in his left hamstring a lasting reminder of all that was lost that night in Las Vegas. In the weeks that followed, his coach would caution about the significance of his injury, laying the groundwork for the quarterback to bow out of a bowl game, which, on paper, meant little in the grand scheme of a terrific turnaround season.

Yet to Caleb Williams, there was never a question. USC’s Heisman Trophy winner had assured — and reassured — in the aftermath of the loss to Utah that he’d return, and on Sunday morning, his coach would finally confirm his quarterback’s plans to play against Tulane in the Cotton Bowl on Monday.

“He’s ready to play,” Lincoln Riley said. “He’s progressed maybe a little faster than what we anticipated. Certainly very fortunate on our part that we had the opportunity to have a month before this game. Had it been even two weeks, I doubt he’d be available.”

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USC vs. Tulane in Cotton Bowl: Betting odds, lines and predictions

Figures of Tulane's Green Wave and USC's Trojan, both made from tires, are put on display at AT&T Stadium.
Figures of Tulane’s Green Wave and USC’s Trojan, both made from tires, are put on display at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Thursday.
(Brandon Wade / Associated Press)

Sportsbooks have USC as two-point favorites over Tulane in the Cotton Bowl.

We’re assuming this line would be higher if both teams were 100 percent (and Tulane is as close as any team in the major bowls), but even if Caleb Williams’ hamstring injury is OK enough for him to play, the Trojans are also without wide receiver Jordan Addison (ankle injury), offensive lineman Andrew Vorhees and Brett Neilon (opt outs for NFL draft), plus linebacker Ralen Goforth (transfer portal).

The other concern for USC is the motivation factor as the Trojans were on the cusp of a College Football Playoff berth in coach Lincoln Riley’s first year before losing to Utah in the Pac-12 Championship game, so the Cotton Bowl is an obvious letdown. Meanwhile, the Cotton Bowl was the reasonable best-case scenario for Tulane as a Group of 5 program.

Williams threw for 4,075 yards and 37 touchdowns while adding another 372 rushing yards and 10 more TDs in leading the Trojans to the No. 3 scoring offense at 41.1 points per game. Tulane had the No. 23 defense, allowing just 20.5 points per game, and the No. 18 pass defense at just 188.5 yards per game.

Tulane was also 11-2 against the spread this season — a result of exceeding preseason expectations — and coach Willie Fritz is 12-8 ATS (60%) in bowl games.

Early bettors still appear to think the Trojans are the right side as 82% of the bets and 72% of the money was on USC at DraftKings as of Friday morning. However, as South Point sportsbook director recently wrote on, with the exception of the College Football Playoff games, the vast majority of bets on other bowl games doesn’t come in until gameday. For current figures, see the VSiN betting splits page.

The Over/Under is at 64 points. As of noon Friday, 63% of the bets and 76% of the money was on the Over.