USC All-America DL Tuli Tuipulotu declares for NFL draft

Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

LOS ANGELES – Southern California All-America defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu will enter the NFL draft.

Tuipulotu, who led the FBS with 13 1/2 sacks as a junior, announced his decision on social media Tuesday.

The 6-foot-4, 290 pound edge rusher had two tackles and one sack in the eighth-ranked Trojans’ 46-45 loss to Tulane in the Cotton Bowl on Monday. He finished his college career with 21 sacks and 32 tackles for loss in 32 games.

The younger brother of USC and Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Marlon Tuipulotu, Tuli impressed as a freshman during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season by getting two sacks and 2 1/2 tackles for loss in six games.

His last season was his best, with Tuipulotu finishing second nationally in tackles for loss with 22. The defensive equivalent to Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams, Tuipulotu’s disruptive play helped a flawed defense lacking talent and depth – USC allowed 29.2 points per game and 6.5 yards per play – produce timely negative plays and takeaways.

Tuipulotu received the Morris Trophy as the best defensive lineman in the Pac-12, an award voted on by players. He was also a finalist for the Bednarik and Nagurski Awards presented to the top defender in college football and the Lombardi Award for the top offensive or defensive lineman.

Led by Williams and Tuipulotu, USC finished 11-3 and played in the Pac-12 title game and a New Year’s Six bowl in coach Lincoln Riley‘s first season. The Trojans were 4-8 in 2021 when Clay Helton was fired as coach after two games.

Tulane scores 16 late points, beats USC 46-45 in Cotton Bowl

cotton bowl
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
1 Comment

ARLINGTON, Texas — Alex Bauman knew right away he had scored probably the biggest touchdown in Tulane history, even after the true freshman tight end’s contested 6-yard catch at the end of the Cotton Bowl was initially ruled incomplete.

“I kept my hands under the ball,” he said.

The long replay review proved Bauman made the catch with 9 seconds left, even with linebacker Eric Gentry draped over him as they rolled over in the end zone. That capped a frantic finish for the 14th-ranked Green Wave in a 46-45 win over Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams and No. 8 Southern California.

“I might have had a heart attack,” Tulane coach Willie Fritz said on the field moments after the game ended.

“If you told us before the game that we had one drive, one opportunity to go down there and win the game, then we’d take that 10 out of 10 times,” quarterback Michael Pratt said.

The Green Wave (12-2) scored 16 points in the final 4:07, the game-winning touchdown coming after they got the ball back following a safety, to complete an FBS-record 10-win turnaround after going 2-10 last season.

“Huge win for the program, huge win for the university, huge win for the city,” Fritz said.

Williams was 37-for-52 passing for 462 yards and a Cotton Bowl-record five touchdowns, exactly one month after suffering a hamstring injury in USC’s loss to Utah in the Pac-12 championship game that kept the Trojans (11-3) from making the four-team College Football Playoff.

Tyjae Spears ran for 205 yards, his FBS-best eighth consecutive 100-yard game. His career-best fourth touchdown started the final scoring surge for American Athletic Conference champion Tulane, which was in the New Year’s Six game as the highest-ranked Group of Five team.

The Green Wave played in their most significant bowl since the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day in 1940, when they were still in the Southeastern Conference, and it was their biggest bowl win since the 1935 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, where their campus is located.

After Spears’ 4-yard TD run with 4:07 left, the Green Wave opted to kick deep instead of trying an onside kick. Mario Williams signaled for a fair catch, but fumbled the ball out of bounds at the 1. Two plays later, defensive tackle Patrick Jenkins met Austin Jones in the end zone and smothered him for a safety.

“We were debating whether or not to onside kick,” said Fritz, the seventh-year Tulane coach. “Obviously it was great that we got it on the 1 and got the safety.”

Pratt completed only 8 of 17 passes for 234 yards, but had two 24-yard completions on that final drive after the safety. He also scrambled 8 yards on a fourth-and-6 play.

The first 24-yard completion to Bauman converted a fourth-and-10. Deuce Watts then held on despite a crushing hit from a defender that left both of them on the ground after a 24-yard gain to the 6 with 18 seconds left.

After Williams followed coach Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma, the Trojans matched the biggest turnaround in school history despite the coach’s first loss in six games at AT&T Stadium. Their debut was a seven-win improvement over last season’s 4-8 record.

“I’ve rarely at the end of the year felt so conflicted,” Riley said. “On one hand, sick about the way we finished the season. … We lost three games this year. We lost two of them on the last play of the game. And we lost one in the fourth quarter in the championship game when we had a chance to go to the College Football Playoff.”

The Trojans never trailed until that final touchdown. Williams threw TD passes on each of their first two possessions. A 9-yarder to Michael Jackson III capped the game-opening 9-minute drive, the longest by time for USC this season, and Terrell Bynum‘s 3-yard catch capped a 95-yard drive early to make it 14-0 in the second quarter.

Tulane tied the game at 14 on Pratt’s touchdown pass to Jha'Quan Jackson, an 87-yard catch-and-run. But USC scored twice in the final 2:21 of the first half, on Raleek Brown‘s 39-yard run and Brenden Rice‘s 4-yard catch with 12 seconds left.

Rice, the son of Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice, had career bests with six catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns. Tahj Washington had five catches for 109 yards.

Williams got hurt on a 59-yard run early in the Pac-12 championship game loss to Utah on Dec. 2, but still threw for 363 yards and three TDs while finishing that game. USC’s only other loss was also to the Utes, who had a game-winning 2-point conversion at home in mid-October.

The Cotton Bowl was Williams’ third game this season with five TD passes. His only interception set up Tulane’s long game-tying TD. On a scramble with open field in front of him, Williams instead threw off his back foot and was picked off by Jarius Monroe.

“It’s going to linger. You lose the last game of the season, go into the offseason, burns,” Williams said. “Don’t have another game after. It’s going to burn.”

GOING LONG

There were 11 plays of at least 30 yards – six by Tulane (two passes and four runs) and five by USC (four passes, one run). The 87-yard catch-and-run by Jackson for the Green Wave matched the longest touchdown in the 87 Cotton Bowl games played.

UP NEXT

Tulane opens next fall with back-to-back home games, Sept. 2 against South Alabama and Sept. 9 against SEC team Ole Miss.

USC gets an early start to Riley’s second season, Aug. 26 at home against San Jose State.

USC’s Williams wins Heisman after leading Trojan turnaround

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

NEW YORK – Caleb Williams brought sizzle, excitement and star power back to Southern California football.

And now the Heisman Trophy, too.

Williams, the dynamic quarterback who was the catalyst for the Trojans’ turnaround season, won the Heisman on Saturday night to make USC the first school to take home college football’s most prestigious player of the year award eight times.

Williams received 544 first-place votes and 2,031 points to easily outpoint TCU quarterback Max Duggan (1,420).

Williams is the fourth transfer to win the Heisman in the last six years, joining Baker Mayfield (2017) and Kyler Murray (2018) of Oklahoma and Joe Burrow (2019) of LSU.

Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud was third in the voting after coming in fourth last season. Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett finished fourth. The top-ranked Bulldogs will face Stroud and the fourth-ranked Buckeyes in the College Football Playoff on Dec. 31.

Duggan and the third-ranked Horned Frogs will play No. 2 Michigan in the other CFP semifinal on New Year’s Eve.

“I may be standing up here today, but y’all get to the College Football Playoffs. Guess you can’t win’em all,” Williams said as he started his acceptance speech by thanking the other finalists.

Before taking hold of his big bronze trophy, Williams hugged Mike Garrett, USC’s first Heisman winner in 1965, one of 23 previous winners to attend the ceremony near Lincoln Center.

“Dreams really do come true. Thank you, and fight on,” Williams said at the end of his 10-minute speech.

Williams and No. 8 USC fell short of the Pac-12 championship and a spot in the playoff, but it was still a rebirth for a college football blue blood that has had only short spurts of success over the last decade.

The last time USC had a Heisman winner was 2005, when running back Reggie Bush was the second of consecutive Trojans players to win the award. Matt Leinart won the Heisman in 2004 on the way to a national championship.

Bush’s Heisman win, the Trojans’ seventh, was later vacated for NCAA violations that began the descent of USC.

Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma each have seven Heisman victories.

The Trojans hope a revival is underway, led by Lincoln Riley, who coached Oklahoma’s last two Heisman winners, and Williams, who followed the quarterback whisperer from Norman to Los Angeles.

With Riley and Williams orchestrating one of the nation’s most prolific offenses, USC went from 4-8 last to 11-2 and a Cotton Bowl bid this year.

Williams is the epitome of the modern college football star. As a five-star recruit from Washington, Williams has been a celebrity since high school.

At the age of 10, Williams and his father, Carl, started planning a path to greatness. The to-do list included winning a Heisman.

“It’s something you dream of as a kid when you’re in high school, and then when you get to college it’s just a goal you might throw on the wall before the season,” Williams said the day before checking off that goal.

As a freshman at Oklahoma last year, Williams grabbed hold of the starting job, coming off the bench to rally the Sooners past rival Texas and immediately becoming one of the college football’s most exciting players.

He transferred to USC in the offseason to play for Riley and amassed an extensive and lucrative endorsement portfolio before ever playing a game for the Trojans.

Thanks to one of his NIL deals, Williams was able to bring eight of his offensive lineman with him to the Heisman ceremony in New York.

When the games did start, Williams delivered on the promise and potential.

He passed for 4.075 yards, 37 touchdowns and just four interceptions, setting a USC record for total offense with 4.447 yards. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound sophomore also ran for 10 touchdowns, drawing comparisons to Chiefs’ star Patrick Mahomes for his ability to improvise and deliver perfect passes from a variety of arm angles.

Williams finished with a kick, accounting for seven touchdowns in Top-25 victories against UCLA and Notre Dame that put USC in playoff position.

The Trojans could not close the deal, losing the Pac-12 title game to Utah with Williams hobbling through much of the game with a strained hamstring. Still, he threw for 363 yards and three touchdowns to give USC a chance, and solidified his status as Heisman frontrunner.

Williams is the 19th quarterback to win the Heisman since 2000, the third from USC and the third to do it after transferring to play for Riley.

Mayfield and Murray took similar paths under Riley when he was at Oklahoma. Riley left the Sooners after last season to take the USC job, jumping from one storied program to another.

Riley joins Notre Dame’s Frank Leahy (four), Alabama’s Nick Saban (four), Army’s Red Blaik (three) and Ohio State’s Woody Hayes (three) to coach at least three Heisman winners.

Williams is the sixth sophomore, and second straight, to win the Heisman. Alabama’s Bryce Young won the Heisman in his second season last year, and finished sixth in the voting this year, behind Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker.

Williams will become the latest player with a chance to join Ohio State’s Archie Griffin (1974-75) as a two-time Heisman winner.

But first, it’s time to find some space at USC’s Heritage Hall. Williams has made Southern California Heisman U. again.