One For The Ages
Over the last few days, college football has seen a number of great contests. From the Sun Bowl on Friday to Saturday when TCU and Georgia both won epic semi-finals setting up an unlikely championship. On paper, the Cotton Bowl match-up between Tulane and USC looked like one of the best of the season. A lot of points were expected and the two teams certainly didn’t disappoint. In fact, it was one to remember. Let’s review all the action as Tulane wins the Cotton Bowl 46-45.
No Ill Effects
If you read our game preview, the biggest question heading into Monday’s game at “Jerry World” was the health of Heisman winner Caleb Williams. He suffered a hamstring injury in the Pac-12 loss to Utah and his status was somewhat up in the air. However, he said he’d be good to go and certainly proved it. Taking the opening kickoff the Trojans went 75 yards in 17 plays taking nine minutes off the clock. The final nine came on a pass from Williams to Michael Jackson III and it was 7-0. After a Tulane punt pinned them back at their five-yard line Williams led USC 95 yards in 12 plays. This time a three-yard pass to Terrell Bynum put them up 14-0.
Of course, the Green Wave was the AAC Champions for a reason and they quickly battled back. A three-yard run by Tyjae Spears cut the lead in half. Willie Fritz’s club got the break they needed when Jarius Monroe intercepted a Williams pass at the Tulane eight. It took them all of 50 seconds to score as Michael Pratt hit Jha’Quon Jackson on an 87-yard strike and we were tied.
The Trojans retook the lead on a 37-yard run by Raleek Brown then scored again right before the half on Williams’ third touchdown pass, this one to Brenden Rice. At the intermission, USC had doubled up the Green Wave 28-14.
Leading The Comeback
In the second half Spears, the reigning AAC player of the year put Tulane on his back. Racking up 60 of the 76 yards on the drive he took it the last seven cutting the deficit in half. With all the tackling problems USC had in the Pac-12 title game Spears was chomping at the bit to get at that defense. Following a Tulane field goal, the Heisman winner went back to work. Going 97 yards in five plays the second TD of the day to Rice put USC up 11. Spears ran wild again picking up all 65 yards on their next scoring drive. The two-point conversion was no good and the lead was 35-30.
Williams’ fifth touchdown pass, this one to Mario Williams put the Trojans up 12. On Tulane’s next possession Spears fumbled which led to a field goal and were up 15 with 4:30 to go. Things were looking good for USC, or so everyone thought.
Tulane needed only 23 seconds to get back into it. Pratt hit Deuce Watts for 59 yards and Spears took it the final four. On the ensuing kick-off, Williams fumbled it out of bounds at their own one-yard line. Two plays later Austin Jones was tackled in the end zone for a safety. The Green Wave got the ball back and drove 64 yards for the game winner. Converting twice on fourth down they got down to the USC six-yard line. Pratt hit Alex Bauman in the end zone but the play was ruled incomplete. However, it was overturned on replay and when Valentino Ambrosio hit the extra point Tulane capped off an improbable comeback. If you are scoring at home that’s 16 points in the last 4:30 for the Green Wave. USC had one more chance but couldn’t get anything going as Tulane wins the Cotton Bowl 46-45.
That is the final!!!
Tulane wins the @CottonBowlGame and wraps up the season 12-2!!!!#RollWave | #LikeNoOther | #GoodyearCottonBowl pic.twitter.com/ddyQBhQS6w
— Tulane Football (@GreenWaveFB) January 2, 2023
With the win, Fritz and the Green Wave complete the biggest one-season turnaround in FBS history. From 2-10 in 2021 to 12-2 in 2022 and AAC and Cotton Bowl champs. Furthermore, the school won in its biggest bowl game since losing to Texas A&M in the 1940 Sugar Bowl. Pratt already announced he was coming back next year and with Cincinnati off to the Big 12 they start 2023 as a favorite to run it back. Spears finished with an incredible 205 yards and four touchdowns and was named MVP in his final college game.
Tyjae Spears (@tyjae22) shows off his new Cotton Bowl Offensive MVP hardware.
Season-high 205 rushing yards and 4 TD to lead Tulane to a historic victory. pic.twitter.com/2rE7I7I9kW
— Steve Helwick (@s_helwick) January 2, 2023
Pratt threw for 234 yards on only eight completions.
On the other side of the ball, Lincoln Riley and USC finish up 11-3. They too made a remarkable turnaround going 4-8 last year to 11-3 in 2022. Only a sophomore Williams should lead the Trojans again in 2023. As a result, they should be near the top of the Pac-12 again.
The 91 combined points fell one short of tying the Cotton Bowl record. In 2019 Penn State beat Memphis 53-39. In addition, they combined for 1,139 yards, 594 for USC, and 539 for Tulane. However, the Green Wave averaged a whopping 10.3 yards per play on 32 fewer plays. Of course, defensive struggles plagued USC all year and it hurt them on Monday.
Again Tulane wins the Cotton Bowl 46-45 in a remarkable comeback. Thanks for checking out our recap here at Last Word On College Football.