Tulane Tops USC in Cotton Bowl Classic

The headline story leading up to the 87th Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic revolved around No. 10 USC Trojans and its Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Caleb Williams but the game’s Hollywood Ending favored the No. 16 Tulane Green Wave as they capped off their incredible season with a 46-45 win in front of 55,329 fans at AT&T Stadium.

USC kicked a 43-yard field goal to give the Trojans a 45-30 lead with 4:30 remaining in the game.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, over the last five seasons, teams were 1-1692 when trailing by 15 or more points with 5 minutes or fewer in the fourth quarter.

ARLINGTON, TX – JANUARY 02: Tulane Green Wave tight end Alex Bauman (87) runs after a catch during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl between the Tulane Green Wave and USC Trojans on January 2, 2023 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. (Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire)

It would take a mere 23 seconds and two plays for Tulane to respond with a 59-yard completion from quarterback Michael Pratt to wide receiver Duece Watts before running back Tyjae Spears notched his fourth touchdown rush of the game.

The kickoff to USC set things in motion as the ball bounced off kick returner Mario Williams and went out of the bounds at their own one yard line. Two plays later, USC’s Austin Jones was tackled for a safety to make the score 45-39 with the Green Wave due to get the ball back with 3:13 to go in the game.

Tulane went no huddle and converted on two fourth downs in the processof a 12-play, 66-yard drive to keep their hopes alive. Pratt hit tight end Alex Bauman with a pass across the middle on second-and-goal and after originally being called an incomplete pass, the call was reversed on replay and Tulane kicked the extra point to take a one point lead with nine seconds left.

USC had one last shot that Tulane snuffed out following a barrage of laterals that ended the game and gave the Green Wave the turnaround in FBS history going from 2-10 a year ago to 12-2, an American Athletic Conference championship and a victory in a New Year’s Six bowl game. They were in the Cotton Bowl game as the highest-ranked Group of Five team.

The star of the day for Tulane was Tyjae Spears who had 205 yards to go along with his four touchdowns. His 205 yards are the second most in a New Year’s Six game behind Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott who had 230 rushing yards in the 2015 Sugar Bowl. His four touchdowns tie Elliott, who accomplished the same feat in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl.

“I’m still trying to soak it all in,” Tulane head coach Willie Fritz said. “It’s huge win for the program. Huge win for the university. Huge win for the city. We represent New Orleans. We Represent Tulane University. We represent our football program and I think we’ve seen this year that a great football season and competing at a high level can do for a university.”

USC’s Williams did his part in going 37-0f-52 for 462 yards and five touchdowns, but in the end it was not enough to cover up the Trojans’ struggles on defense.

“We’ll take a deep dive into every part of it here over the next couple of weeks,” USC head coach Lincoln Riley said. “We’ll lay out a plan, just like we did when we land in L.A. 13 months ago. You assess what you’ve got and how can we make it better and then you go to work.”

The 12 combined touchdowns set a new Cotton Bowl record, breaking the previous mark of 11 from Ole Miss-Texas Tech in 2009 and Baylor-Michigan State in 2015. 


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