USC vs. Tulane score: Trojans collapse late as Green Wave rally from 15 down in Cotton Bowl 2023

No. 16 Tulane stormed back to knock off No. 10 USC in an all-time bowl game performance, overcoming multiple double-digit deficits and scoring in the final seconds for the thrilling 46-45 win in the Cotton Bowl.

Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt, going head-to-head against newly minted Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams, hung in to make several key plays in the final minutes of a sequence that saw the Green Wave score the final 16 points of the game in the last four and a half minutes of regulation. Trailing 45-30, Pratt guided the offense down the field in 23 seconds to score a touchdown which cut the lead to eight points. After a miscue on the ensuing kickoff, the Green Wave defense stuffed USC in its own end zone for a safety.

Pratt then helped lead a game-winning drive that included multiple third and fourth-down conversions before delivering the touchdown strike with just eight seconds remaining.

Tulane’s ability to win stems from the resiliency it showed all afternoon. The Green Wave fell behind 14-0 early, came back to tie and then trailed 28-14 at halftime before bringing it back to 28-24 late in the third quarter. Those efforts heralded the final push, which was powered in part by running back Tyjae Spears. Spears was the best player on the field at times, and he showcased playmaking that rivaled that of Williams with his eight straight games of rushing for at least 100 yards. He totaled 205 yards and four touchdowns on 17 attempts in the win.

The win cements arguably the greatest one-season turnaround in modern college football history. Tulane was 2-10 a year ago, and now finishes 12-2 with an American Athletic Conference championship and Cotton Bowl win against a top-10 USC. This was already the program’s biggest bowl appearance since 1939, and to mount this kind of comeback on this stage solidifies a true storybook moment for coach Willie Fritz and the Green Wave.

The loss was an incredibly disappointing finish to what was otherwise a great showing from the 2022 Heisman winner. Williams threw for 462 yards and five touchdowns on 37-of-52 passing (71%), and flashed all the reasons why Heisman voters were drawn to his electric playmaking ability, often extending plays with his legs while keeping his focus down the field. Although Tulane had one of the better defenses in the AAC this year and often beat blocks to apply pressure to Williams, the one thing the Green Wave struggled to do was bring Williams to the ground. It was also a stellar performance for wide receiver Brenden Rice, who broke out with a career day (six catches, 174 yards, two touchdowns) as the offense was absent of Jordan Addison.

It’s also a disappointing conclusion to what was otherwise a successful first season with USC for Lincoln Riley. The Trojans coach led the program to its best season in years, but they finish with two losses, go from being No. 4 in the College Football Rankings to losers in the New Year’s Six. Oh, and now Riley himself is 1-4 in bowl games throughout his career.

With Williams back in the fold, the challenge now is to re-stock the roster — particularly on defense — and take aim at a Pac-12 championship and College Football Playoff appearance in 2023.

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