After last season's disappointing loss to LSU in the Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma adopted the motto 'Finish' as motivation for the 2004 season.
Well, not only did the Sooners (12-1) not finish in '04, they got thoroughly dominated and embarrassed by top-ranked USC (13-0), 55-19, in the BCS National Championship game Tuesday night at the Orange Bowl in Miami.
"We just got whipped," said Oklahoma Head Coach Bob Stoops. "My compliments and congratulations to USC, who played a great game. They really executed, made the plays that counted. Their staff did a great job having them prepared."
It looked good early for Oklahoma as they marched 92-yards on their opening drive to take a quick 7-0 lead on a Jason White five-yard touchdown pass to Travis Wilson, but it was all USC from that point on.
The Trojans needed only six plays on their next possession to tie the game at 7-7 on a Matt Leinart 33-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dominique Byrd, then capitilized on four first half Oklahoma turnovers en route to a 38-10 halftime lead and the worst loss for Oklahoma in the Stoops era.
"All the responsibility comes to me first, and we didn't get it done," said Stoops, who is now 3-3 in Bowl games. "I feel we were capable of playing better. When you turn the ball over four times in the first half, you make it pretty difficult to win. And then if you allow people to get behind you, as well, give up some big plays, that really felt like the second quarter really pretty much took us out of it."
With the score tied at 7-7, the tide began to turn against OU when senior receiver Mark Bradley picked up and fumbled a punt return that the Trojans were attempting to down inside the 10-yard line. USC recovered the fumble at the Sooners' six-yard line, and one play later running back LenDale White sprinted up the middle nearly untouched for a touchdown to give the Trojans a 14-7 lead with 23 seconds left in the first quarter.
On the Sooners' next possession with the ball in USC territory, Oklahoma quarterback Jason White made a very uncharacteristic mistake when he was flushed out of the pocket, threw off his back foot into triple coverage down field and was intercepted at the 11-yard line.
Leinart and the Trojans wasted no time going capitilizing on the turnover going on a six-play, 89-yard drive, which was capped by a 54-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Dwayne Jarrett to give USC a 21-7 lead with 11:54 to go in the second quarter.
"It was a horrible decision on my part," said White on the interception that led to USC's third touchdown. "I should have just threw the ball away, and I didn't. I just tried to make a play and tried to throw it out so one of the receivers to jump up and get it, but it was stupid on my part and I should have just thrown it away."
On the Sooners' drive following Jarrett's touchdown catch, White threw his second interception, which was returned to the 10-yard line. Three plays later, Leinart found Steve Smith wide open in the middle of the end zone for a five-yard touchdown pass to push the lead to 28-7 at the 9:21 mark of the second quarter.
Oklahoma then responded with a 13-play, 68-yard drive that was capped by a Garrett Hartley field goal to cut the lead to 28-10 with 3:15 to go, but that would be as close as the Sooners would get.
Just 59 seconds later, Leinart led the Trojans back down the field and found Smith in the back of the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown pass to give USC a 35-10 lead with 2:03 to go in the half.
It went from bad to worse, as a botched hand-off from White to running back Kejuan Jones on OU's next possession, resulted in a 44-yard Ryan Killeen field goal with 14 seconds left in the half to push the lead to 38-10 at the half.
"You can't get in these big games and make mistakes like we did," said Stoops. "The turnovers early in a big game like this, you can't have them. Also, you can't give up big plays. In the end, that was it. That was the biggest part of it."
The second half was more of the same, as Leinart hooked up with Smith for a third time on the Trojans' opening drive of the first half for a four-yard touchdown pass at the 11:31 mark of the third quarter, and the rout was on.
In all, Leinart completed 18 of his 35 pass attempts for 330 yards and tossed an Orange Bowl record five touchdown passes.
White, who finished third to Leinart in this year's Heisman Trophy race, completed 24 of his 36 passes for 245 yards with two touchdown passes and three interceptions. White's second touchdown toss came with three minutes to go, when he hooked up with Wilson for a nine-yard touchdown that cut the lead to 55-19.
"Disappointed, embarrassed, you name it," said White on the loss. "You play both seasons so well and you make it all the way to the end to what you really want, and you don't get it, and you know you left everything you had out there. I'm just disappointed and embarrassed. I think the whole team would say the same thing. We also know that we had a pretty good run this year. That's something we're going to keep our heads up."
All of the talk coming into the game was that the Sooners needed to stop USC running back Reggie Bush, but it was LenDale White who proved to be the biggest problem for Oklahoma's defense. White ran for two touchdowns and 121 yards on 15 carries, while Bush finished with 74 yards on just six carries.
If there was one bright spot, it was that freshman running back Adrian Peterson moved past Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne for the most rushing yards as a true freshman. Peterson finished with 82 yards on 25 carries.
"Again, compliments to SC for a great, great game," said Stoops. "I'm still proud of our players, every one of them, to be in this position. I can't say that I'm proud of the way we played today, but their work through an entire year, I don't take that for granted. These young men work hard, and I appreciate their efforts.
"I compliment them for the hard work in the Big 12 Championship in getting to this position. I wish we could have done a better job and played better today. That didn't happen, and again, SC is to be given the credit for that."
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