By Derek DeBurger

With the third straight loss, Louisville ends its season on a bitter note at the hands of the USC Trojans.

Despite being considered a disappointing draw compared to what tier of bowl games the Cards expected, this was a favorable matchup for Louisville. Several stars for the Trojans were sitting out of the bowl game, their offensive line was almost as bad as their defense, and all season long their defense has been awful.

It seemed like Louisville would have an easy time taking home their first-ever Holiday Bowl trophy, but the amount of time that USC has had to do nothing but practice was severely underrated going into this game. The Trojans schedule set them up to not have a game in the final week of the season giving them five-and-a-half weeks for Lincoln Riley—one of the best coaches in the sport—to work on making his team better.

A swing of momentum in the first half

After receiving the opening kickoff, USC sputtered offensively. In turn, Louisville essentially did what they wanted on the first drive and scored on a goal-line touchdown from Isaac Guerendo. Guerendo was one of the few bright spots posting career highs in rushing yards and touchdowns—161 yards and three touchdowns—and became the first player in Louisville history to have 150-plus rushing yards and three-plus rushing touchdowns in a bowl game.

The next drive was when the Trojans began to dip their toes a bit on offense, marching down the field into the red zone. The Cardinals’ defense, however, dodged a bullet and forced a (missed) field goal.

All momentum was killed when quarterback Jack Plummer fumbled on the first play of the drive.

With a short field to work with, backup quarterback Miller Moss threw his first of six touchdowns—setting several Holiday Bowl and USC records—on a 17-yard strike to Tahj Washington.

Louisville was stifled on their next drive after only moving 51 yards in 14 plays, and USC quickly scored again. This time it was with the help of chunk plays capped off with a 29-yard strike to Washington.

Needing to stop the bleeding, the Cards trotted onto the field to go three-and-out. If that wasn’t enough of an emotional blow, the punt by Brady Hodges was blocked giving USC their second out of the last three drives to start inside the redzone. Moss was able to get his third touchdown in just two plays.

Desperate to get something going on offense, Louisville went back to what it has done best all year and pounded the ball in the running game. Guerendo carried the ball all but three plays on the long drive, one of which was a nine-yard touchdown run by backup quarterback Evan Conley.

There was now enough time on the clock and timeouts in Jeff Brohm’s pocket to get a stop and score again before the half, but Moss again picked apart the defense to lead USC 75 yards in just five plays to score yet again.

The score going into the half was 14-28, Trojans.

A tumble against the Trojans

Louisville had been punched in the mouth but held a big opportunity in their hands as they were set to get the second-half kickoff. They could get the game back to one possession with a score, but instead went three-and-out.

USC and Moss came out like nothing had changed. It took only two plays for them to get back into the red zone. Once in the red zone, however, Moss threw an interception to Quincy Riley on a would-be touchdown.

With great field position, the Cards cut the lead to seven. The manageable deficit was short-lived, as once again Moss just shredded the Louisville defense to put the ball in the endzone.

Louisville would march the ball down the field again for another touchdown, but each scoring drive was too long and methodical; time was running thin. The other problem was the Cards’ inability to stop the USC offense. The Trojans went on another quick 75-yard drive to give them back a 14-point lead.

Louisville, back on offense, moved the ball effectively, but they couldn’t move fast due to Plummer dislocating a finger on his throwing hand in the second quarter. They slowly made their way into USC territory, but were stopped on fourth-down to essentially lock up a USC win.

Louisville would go on to lose the Holiday Bowl 28-42.

On to the spring

There were two main reason reasons the Cards lost: a lack of explosive plays on offense and a lack of an effective pass rush.

The latter was a much bigger deal, allowing Moss to sit back and carve up the defense. The added pressure on the offense only amplified the need to grind out offensive drives due to some misses early, and Plummer’s injury limiting his effectiveness only added salt to the wound. Just about everything USC was supposed to do poorly, they fixed for the bowl game, and Louisville failed to adjust.

This may have been the one game this season that Brohm was out-coached. USC just seemed more prepared for this game.

While the end of the season does taint what was an amazing year overall, the future is still extremely bright for the Cards as Brohm looks to keep the momentum rolling off the field and prepare for spring camp.

Louisville ends the year at 10-4.

Photo Courtesy // Orlando Ramirez, USA TODAY Sports