Cotton Bowl Comeback: Tulane Shocks USC 46-45 With Ferocious Rally in Final Minutes Michael Duarte %%item_date%% %%item_source%%
USC just can’t win a bowl game.
The Trojans had a 15-point lead with just over four minutes remaining, but Tulane’s unrelenting rally shocked the Trojans, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat for a 46-45 victory in the 87th edition of the Goodyear Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium on Monday afternoon.
Michael Pratt’s six-yard touchdown pass to Alex Bauman lifted the No. 16 ranked Tulane to an upset over the No. 7 ranked USC Trojans. USC has not won a bowl game since they defeated Penn State in the Rose Bowl in 2017.
Pratt authored the ferocious comeback for the Green Wave late in the fourth quarter. After the Trojans went up 15, Pratt found Duece Watts for a 59-yard pass that set up the quick touchdown.
USC started from their own two-yard line on the ensuing drive, and running back Austin Jones was taken down in the end zone for the first safety in the Cotton Bowl since 2009. Suddenly, the once assured Trojans’ victory was in peril.
Now down just six points, Pratt engineered the 12-play, 66-yard scoring drive that stole the victory for Tulane, crowning them 2023 Cotton Bowl champions.
Despite the loss, USC quarterback Caleb Williams showed why he was the Heisman Trophy Award winner this season.
Still hampered with a hamstring injury, Williams put his arm talent on display throwing for 460 yards and five touchdowns in the loss.
The Cotton Bowl Classic was just the third meeting between the two teams and the first since 1946. The Trojans are now 1-2 in their Cotton Bowl history.
The game turned into the touchdown party that most people expected, with both teams unveiling their offensive firepower.
Brenden Rice, son of Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice, proved the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. With former Biletnikoff Award winner, Jordan Addison, skipping the bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft, Rice led the Trojans in receiving with eight catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns.
Tulane’s star running back Tyjae Spears led the Green Wave with 17 carries for 205 yards and four touchdowns. It was Spears’ FBS-best eighth consecutive game rushing for over 100 yards.
USC (11-3) have nothing to hang their heads about after completing the best single-season turnaround in school history. Williams tied the Cotton Bowl record with five touchdown passes, and broke the USC school record with 42 touchdowns on the season. However, the Trojans have still yet to win at AT&T Stadium, falling to 0-3 inside the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.
Tulane (12-2), punctuated the biggest single-season turnaround in College Football history, going from 2-10 in 2021, to American Athletic Conference and Cotton Bowl champions in 2022. Led by quarterback Michael Pratt, Tulane broke the school record for total yards in a single season and won 12 games for the first time since 1998.
The Trojans’ offense was one of the best in the country this season, but it was their pitiful defense, prone to giving up big plays and missed tackles that had USC fans worried entering the game. Both turned out to be true.
USC opened the game with a lengthy 17-play, 75-yard scoring drive that soaked up over nine minutes game time. Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams found Michael Jackson near the sideline and the sophomore scampered into the end zone for the score.
The Trojans marched down the field again on their second possession of the game, with Williams locating a wide-open Terrell Bynum in the end zone for the 14-0 lead.
The drive was kept alive by another dose of Williams’ Heisman magic. On 3rd and 22, the sophomore quarterback spun out of the pocket, and scrambled towards the Trojans sideline before finding receiver Brenden Rice near the pylon for a 30-yard gain.
The game quickly turned into a touchdown party as Tulane responded with an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown of their own.
After a Williams’ interception, the Green Wave tied the game on an 87-yard catch and score that tied the Cotton Bowl record for the longest TD play in the game’s history.
USC shifted the momentum back to their side, scoring two more touchdowns before the half, taking a 28-14 lead into the locker room.
The back-and-forth battle picked up where it left off in the second half, with the Green Wave scoring on their opening drive to cut the lead to 28-21.
Each team took turns scoring until the Trojans’ defense, which led the country in turnover margin (+22) this season, finally got the takeaway that turned the tide.
Mekhi Blackmon forced and recovered the fumble from Spears midway through the fourth quarter, just as Tulane was driving deep into Trojan territory to try and make it a one-score game. USC got three points off the turnover and took a 45-30 lead with 4:30 remaining.
Tulane answered right back, once again gashing the Trojans’ dreadful defense for a two-play, 63-yard drive that Spears capped off with his fourth touchdown of the day.
Tulane got the ball back after the safety and stunned the Trojans’ fans in attendance by converting multiple fourth downs in the game’s final drive, putting the exclamation point on the improbable comeback with Pratt’s 6-yard touchdown pass to his tight-end Alex Bauman.
The Green Wave’s celebration poured out onto the field after USC’s last gasp lateral play ended.
According to ESPN’s Stats and info, Lincoln Riley has now lost 6 games when holding a lead of at least 14 points since becoming a head coach in 2017, the most in the FBS in that span.
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