SAN DIEGO – Miller Moss just I did not care for your stories.
He didn’t mind the idea of taking over from Caleb Williams, who watched him on the sidelines of the Holiday Bowl Wednesday night like a proud father. He didn’t care about the idea of seizing the opportunity to start a game, an opportunity he had been waiting for three years or 21 years, depending on your view of cosmic destiny and his mother Emily Kovner Moss teaching at the school of architecture of USC during her pregnancy. with him. And he most certainly did not worries about claiming the USC quarterback job after Williams.
It was nothing more, he said last week, than what it was. He had work to do against Louisville. And that was it.
“My main goal is not to worry about who says what on Twitter or anything,” Moss said last week. “My main goal is to run my business within these walls, lead my team and achieve victory. »
It’s the attitude — completely unfazed and loyal to USC after three years behind other quarterbacks — that has engendered burning confidence in Moss in the USC war room. A guy that linemen “love to block for,” as center Justin Dedich said.
And Moss rose, gloriously, from the ashes of USC’s disappointing 2023 Holiday Bowl season on a cool Wednesday night in San Diego, a stoic phoenix completely unconcerned with the broader implications of the spectacle he put on at Petco Park . He played with no fear in his eyes, no flinching in his right arm, bombing throws into tight windows without hesitation in a 42-28 win over Louisville (10-4).
The moxie meant something, here, to a holiday crowd at Petco Park that roared like lions when a buzzing team headed to the locker room at halftime. Moss threw four touchdowns in the first half, hitting Tahj Washington, Kyron Hudson and Ja’Kobi Lane at increasing decibel levels, tying the Holiday Bowl single-game record for passing touchdowns in just two quarters.
Riley’s plans as a quarterback, for 2024, are unknown. Maybe USC (8-5) will bring in Will Howard from Kansas State. Maybe they’re extracting other magic from the portal. But Moss made it clear last week that he intends to compete for the job in spring practice no matter what — and as he punched Riley’s chest after a fifth touchdown to Lane in the third quarter, it was as if USC had found its successor in Williams. to lead the program into the Big Ten.
The kid who’s been waiting in the wings, all along.
“He’s learned our offense as well as any other player on our team, and I think he’s really earned the respect of the team,” Riley said Tuesday.
Riley’s offense turns quarterbacks into kings. It’s true. But the pure Gut some of Moss’s decisions could not be ignored. He hit freshman Makai Lemon for two big gains in tight, deep windows in the middle of the field in the first half. He threw a short slant to Hudson for a touchdown that whizzed over the outstretched arms of about three Louisville players. And with time running out in the first half, he escaped the pocket, rolled right and, with a passer diving at his feet, threw a Go and get it throw to freshman Lane for a 29-yard score.
“He knows who he is and what his strengths are,” said quarterback coach Steve Clarkson, who worked with Moss for several years growing up. “He’s not going to try to be something he’s not.”
He was helped by a stellar performance from Lane, a lanky 6-foot-4 target who Moss called a “monster,” passing for two touchdowns. Senior Tahj Washington, in his final game at USC, crossed the 1,000-yard threshold with a triumphant second-quarter grab, the cornerstone of the USC program going into a final night with seven catches for 99 yards and two touchdowns in one night – like Rice. , Williams or Lloyd – he could easily have jumped.
After a season of frustrating inconsistency, a season in which Riley repeatedly lamented that he rarely felt like USC’s offense and defense were playing well together at the same time, it all came together. merged magically into a first half where it would have been easy for the Trojans to go limp. Their roster was paper-thin, a team of defensive veterans and untested youth after weeks of personnel changes and transfer turmoil. But while Moss shined in the first half, USC’s pass coverage was sublime, with cornerbacks Prophet Brown and Jacobe Covington making individual cases for a role in D’Anton Lynn’s 2024 secondary with nice technique on pass breakups and tackles. Safety Jaylin Smith (12 tackles) was named the game’s defensive MVP.
But it was Moss’ night. The moment was finally in his hands, after three years of waiting. And after resisting pressure to deliver a third-down strike to Tahj Washington to extend USC’s subsequent drive, he pulled back a fake handoff and threw a 44-yard bomb to freshman Duce Robinson to his sixth touchdown pass of the game.
Sixth. A USC bowl game record. From a child on his first departure.
He took off his chinstrap in celebration, backpedaling slowly for a moment. Then he turned to the Louisville sideline, as broadcast of the game showed, and said goodbye.
Farewell also, perhaps, to his days spent riding the pine tree.
“From our point of view,” mother Kovner Moss said of her son’s first departure, “this is the first of many.”
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