USC WR Brenden Rice has career day in Cotton Bowl loss

ARLINGTON, Texas — If you did not expect much from Caleb Williams’ Heisman Trophy encore, it would have been understood. The USC quarterback was coming off a hamstring pull in his last game and was without leading receiver Jordan Addison, who sat out of the Cotton Bowl against Tulane with an ankle injury.

Instead, Williams threw for 462 yards and a Cotton Bowl-record five touchdowns in USC’s 46-45 loss. Part of it was due to Williams moving better than expected following the injury. But a bigger part of it was the play of junior receiver Brenden Rice.

The Colorado transfer, who entered the game as USC’s fourth-leading receiver after a year plagued by drops, was the Trojans’ offensive MVP on Monday. He set a career-high with 174 receiving yards on six receptions. And he matched his previous season total with two touchdowns.

“Today he was having a good game and I just kept getting the ball in his hands,” Williams said.

It was difficult to judge which was Rice’s most impressive reception. He made a finger-tip catch for a 74-yard gain in the third quarter. That set up his second touchdown, in which he snagged the ball at the Tulane 1 and stayed in bounds long enough to reach the ball across the goal line.

His first touchdown came on a crossing route in which he ran the length of the end zone as Williams rolled right and bought time before finding his receiver.

But the strongest candidate came in the first quarter with USC facing a third-and-22. No receivers initially came open so Williams rolled left to buy time, 11 seconds in total as guard Gino Quinones made a nice secondary block to keep the quarterback on his feet. He finally found Rice at the goal line, facing double coverage.

But Rice stepped forward to beat the cornerback to the ball and make the 30-yard gain.

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USC had a decal on its helmet on Tuesday honoring Mike Leach, the Mississippi State coach who died last month following complications from a heart condition. Leach was USC head coach Lincoln Riley’s coach at Texas Tech and was the first to hire Riley to his coaching staff, where Riley worked for seven years.

Leach was a mentor for many members of the USC coaching staff, including defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and assistants Roy Manning, Dennis Simmons, Dave Emerick and Bennie Wylie.

The decal included Leach’s initials and crossing swords, representing Leach’s nickname “The Pirate”. It was placed next to the “DN” decal USC has worn all season to honor Dave Nichol, another Leach disciple who died in March from cancer.

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