DIRECTV Holiday Bowl: Louisville vs. USC

By Lee Wakefield

Welcome back to our bowl season preview series here at The Touchdown, as we continue to be the home of the bowls right the way through the festive period. The game I am covering today will take place in San Diego, where having an NFL team feels long ago, like the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Having a major sports franchise in San Diego is becoming rarer and rarer, with only the San Diego Padres of MLB inhabiting the city as a major sports franchise. Which makes them the Ghost of Christmas Present?

The Padres’ home, Petco Park, plays host to this game between Louisville and USC.

Things will improve on the sporting front for San Diegans because from 2025, San Diego FC will begin its life in MLS as the league expands to 30 teams. Which, to round off my crow-barred-in, San Diego-themed Christmas intro, would make them the Ghost of Christmas Future.

Anyway, Merry Christmas, one and all! Let’s talk DirecTV Holiday Bowl.

Where and When

DirecTV Holiday Bowl

Location: Petco Park, San Diego, California

Date: 27th December 2023Time: 8pm (ET)

Story so far…

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The Holiday Bowl, since 1997 has been a West Coast institution, playing host to a Pac-12 team, and even before the Pac-12 existed, it hosted a WAC (Western Athletic Conference) team since its inception in 1978.

In the future with the imminent dissolution of the conference, it isn’t entirely clear what the tie-ins will be for this game from 2024.

USC, representing the Pac-12 for the final time, probably ever, appears in its fourth Holiday Bowl, after what has been a disappointing season for Lincoln Riley’s men. When Riley arrived back in 2022, they got all the transfers, they had the offensive genius that everyone wanted, and USC was about to be back. Last year was better than this year’s, obviously mediocre 7-5 record, but they still lost the Pac-12 championship to Utah and lost last year’s bowl to Tulane.

Riley is no longer quite as hot of a property as he used to be, Defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch is now former Defensive Coordinator and I guess Caleb Williams’ determination to get USC into the College Football Playoff wasn’t nearly enough this season.

Louisville, on the other hand, is coming into this one off the back of a regular season similar to the one USC expected to have. 10-3 in the regular season, 7-1 in conference play. They lost to unbeaten and highly-aggrieved-not-to-be-in-the-CPF Florida State in the ACC Championship game and finished the season ranked in the top 15.

Jeff Brohm has done a magnificent job in his first year with the program and will surely be looking to build on this through 2024 and beyond.

The Quarterbacks…

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Cardinals QB, Jack Plummer will lead Louisville into this one in his final collegiate game, to complete a college career that has taken him through Purdue and California.

Plummer has had his most explosive season to date at Louisville, not quite hitting a career-high in passing yardage but did average more per completion and also managed to gain more ground with his legs than ever before.

Plummer isn’t a mobile QB, quite the opposite but playing for the Cardinals allowed him to find something in that aspect of his game, as opposed to the -126 yards he lost when playing for Cal in 2022.

However, whilst playing for the Golden Bears, Plummer did play at USC in November 2022 and threw for 406 yards and 3 touchdowns, his best passing game of the year. Something similar for his Louisville side will get them in a great position to win this game.

No prizes for guessing that it will not be star passer, Caleb Williams who will be taking snaps at QB for the Trojans in this one. He has of course opted out of this one, in the same way that Drake Maye has decided against playing in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.

So, with Williams on his way to the NFL and third-string QB, Malachi Nelson entered into the transfer portal the responsibility will fall on to backup, Miller Moss.

The Holiday Bowl will be an early opportunity for Redshirt Sophomore, Moss to lay his claim to the starting job for 2024. Although, I would imagine it’ll remain highly likely that USC will try to recruit from the portal as a way to find a more experienced, probably bigger-named quarterback to lead them next year. 

Moss has thrown a total of 59 passes and 3 touchdowns in 3 seasons at USC.

Prospects to watch…

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Jamari Thrash, Wide Receiver – Production has not been an issue for Trash over the past two years with 117 catches, 1,923 yards, and 13 scores accredited to him, so plenty of good film exists on this 6’0, 185 lbs pass catcher. A nice route runner with yards-after-catch ability, he could have a good day in this one against an ailing USC defense. 

Ashton Gillotte, Edge Defender – Gillotte is the Cardinals’ most dangerous pass rusher with 11 sacks to his name this year. At 6’3 and 270 lbs, Gillotte has NFL size, plays relentlessly, and has the first-step explosion to cause tackles a problem at this level. 


MarShawn Lloyd, Running Back – Lloyd has decided to declare for the draft even though he is only a Junior, and after a productive season as a workhorse back, he might be the best player on offense for USC in this game. A speedy running back who is thicky built at 5’9, 210 lbs, and put up over 800 yards on the ground in the regular season. Expect him to get a host of touches in San Diego.

Calen Bullock, Safety – It remains to be seen if Bullock will follow in Lloyd’s footsteps and declare early but all the signs point to him being one of the better safety prospects in the draft should be forgo his Senior year. Bullock is a big-bodied safety with the ability to play both in the box and deep in the post. A solid tackler with ball skills, but without an elite trait to hang his hat on, although despite that, I’d be surprised if he makes it to day 3 without hearing his name called. 


USC is not only coming off a poor season in comparison to their opponents but also has a list of players who are choosing to sit this one out that is as long as Santa’s to-do list on Christmas Eve. I can’t see anything but a Louisville win here and it could be a big one.

Louisville 42 – 10 USC

Lee Wakefield