National Champs! Texas 41, USC 38

PASADENA, Calif. -- In the end, the single, perfect Rose would stem from this: 4th-and-five from the eight, down by five, and just 30 seconds separating the 2005 Texas Longhorns from college football immortality. That's why the program's most critical play in 36 years would not be trusted to a mere mortal. Instead, Vince Young's game-winning scamper capped another thrilling Rose Bowl comeback, 41-38, and delivered the fourth national championship in Texas football history.

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From now on, that simple quarterback draw will rank in the pantheon of epoch-making Longhorn plays that will be eagerly recalled and relished whenever Horn fans gather. But there was more improvisation on the game-winner than one might suspect, and it all happened in the blink of an eye.

"On fourth down, you're thinking about what you're going to do," Young said. "I went through all my progressions but no one was open. The D-line went inside and gave me a little edge. I went through my third progression and then I took off."

Named Rose Bowl MVP for the second consecutive year, Young deserves a T-shirt stating, 'Who's Your Granddaddy?' The winningest QB to ever don the Burnt Orange (30-2 as a starter) was a dual-threat dynamo, rushing for 200 yards and three TDS while adding 267 through the air on 30-of-40 passing and no INTs. VY is just the fifth rusher to gain 100+ yards against the Trojans in the past 46 games as well as the first player in NCAA history to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 2,500 in the same season.

"He's the Heisman Trophy winner in my books," SS Michael Huff said of his teammate. "We know that, whatever it takes, Vince is going to go out there and make a play."

And that's just what he did with Texas trailing 38-26 with 6:42 remaining. USC QB Matt Leinart completed 14 of his first 15 passes following intermission and helped build a seemingly insurmountable double-digit lead with a five-play, 80-yard drive. But Young came out firing, completing five of six, including a pair to TE David Thomas. His six-yard reception over the middle converted the only third down of the eight-play, 69-yard march. Thomas led his team with 88 yards on 10 receptions and, as expected, had little trouble with USC's inexperienced outside linebackers.

"We felt like coming in we might have a chance to get some stuff underneath," Thomas said. "I never thought we'd get this much. We just kept going to it and kept making plays. It worked for us."

Young only ran once on that drive, but it was a highlight reel of a dash where VY reversed field, swept right and ran virtually untouched into the end zone from 17 yards out. It brought Texas within five and, here, you thought anything was possible. All the Longhorn D had to do was something it had not done in the second half: keep USC out of the end zone.

"The offense did us good by marching down and scoring," LDT Rod Wright said, "and we knew that, when they did that, we had to come up with a stop. That 4th-and-two was a big play."

Indeed, that 4th-and-two was easily the biggest Longhorn defensive stand in more than 30 years and, arguably, the biggest in program history simply because of where it led.

Facing 4th-and-two at the Texas 45 and little more than two minutes remaining, the call from the Trojan sideline was obvious to the 93,986 packed into the stately stadium: give the ball to LenDale White. After all, the backup RB was averaging 6.2 ypc on a night when Heisman winner Reggie Bush was held to 82 yards on 13 carries. Bush would add 95 yards on six receptions but White was a battering ram, knocking out 124 yards on 20 totes.

"I told the team you stop this fourth down play, you win the national championship," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "That's what it's down to. We're talking about this much difference (indicating six inches) in us winning the national championship and SC winning No. 35."

Call it the longest yard. White took the handoff off tackle, but the Horns held him to just one when they most needed a defensive stop.

"The guys up front stayed low and made a big play," Wright said. "Vince just marched down again and scored. The rest is history."

So is USC's national-best 34-game winning streak. So is talk about the 2005 Trojans establishing themselves as the greatest college football team of all time. The national champion Longhorns (and I will never tire of saying that) now own a NCAA-best 20-game streak and will be the odds-on favorite to be in this game again if, if, if Vince decides to return for his senior season.

"All I know is I'm going to sit down with my parents and make the best decision," Young said. "I've got to sit down with coach and make the best decision for everybody."

However, Brown does not believe VY is likely to back off from a previous pledge to complete his eligibility in Austin.

"If Vince comes back, and we think he will, he'll be the frontrunner to win the Heisman next season," Brown said.

For objective viewers, this was one of the epic national championship bouts in college football history. It wasn't just Texas' first win over a top-ranked team since it dismantled Oklahoma, 28-7, in 1963. For Horn fans everywhere, this was catharsis. An undefeated season, including a bowl win and national title? Hey, we haven't had that spirit here since 1969. Brown, typically quick to lend a well-rehearsed, quotable phrase, was at a loss to put this one in perspective during the emotional aftermath.

"I've been planning this for 33 years," Brown said, "and now I don't know what to say."

At the very least, we can say that Texas never lost its poise. USC was playing for a three-peat in its own backyard, yet Wright said the Horns also brought a been-there, done-that attitude to Pasadena.

"I can't tell you how much playing in the Rose Bowl last year helped us this year," he said. "It was almost the same situation. We were down by 10 against Michigan in the fourth quarter, and this year we were down by 12 to USC in the fourth quarter. We knew we were capable of doing it. We knew we had to get it done some how."

In a tilt where both offenses lived up to their juggernaut status (556 yards for Texas, 574 for USC), it was a handful of critical Longhorn defensive plays sprinkled throughout four quarters that kept this from becoming a Trojan runaway. Texas opened the game by committing the one cardinal sin it could not break against what had been called college football's best offense: give them not one, but two, shortened fields.

Aaron Ross' fumbled punt set up a six play, 46-yard USC scoring drive on its opening possession, culminating with White's four-yard TD run 2:33 into the ballgame. Then, Brown's first gamble of the game saw RB Selvin Young thrown for a one-yard loss on 4th-and-1 at the 48. Yet, Texas returned volley when it held Matt Leinart for no gain on 4th-and-1 from the UT 17. The Horns got a terrific surge from the defensive front while WLB Drew Kelson was credited with the stop.

Freshman RB Jamaal Charles checked in on Texas' second possession as the Horns moved 32 yards to the SC 47, the big play coming on VY's 17-yard run. The drive stalled when UT lost five yards on Charles second-down fumble. But Bush returned the favor when he attempted a lateral to WR Brad Walker at the end of a 37-yard screen pass on the second play of the second quarter. Huff, who led all tacklers with 9.5 stops, came up with the fumble recovery.

"I knew when it came down to it, we were going to step up," Huff said. "We've handled adversity all year. I knew that when we had to, we'd step up and get the ball back to Vince."

The Horns parlayed the turnover into their first points of the game as David Pino's career-long 46-yard FG made it a 7-3 ballgame with less than five minutes eclipsed from the second quarter. Seven plays later, Bush's seven-yard run spotted Troy a first down at the Texas 26. That's when FS Michael Griffin's end zone INT of a Leinart pass intended for WR Steve Smith set off such a seismic shift in momentum that it could have registered on a Richter Scale. Riding the Big Mo, a pair of Longhorn scoring drives bracketed just the second defensive three-and-out of the ballgame.

Memo to SC: UT's Heisman runner-up can orchestrate falling-down, in-the-grasp laterals better than your guy. Young followed his 15-yard run with a 10-yard sprint, but then successfully completed the pitch to Selvin Young, who carried it in from the 12 for the score. Texas' first TD march of the evening covered 80 yards in seven plays but Pino's PAT was wide right.

The Horns followed with a four-play, 51-yard drive. This time, RB Ramonce Taylor did the honors on a sweep-left that collected 30 yards of real estate for the score. USC answered with an 11-play drive, but RDT Frank Okam registered back-to-back sacks totaling 13 yards, forcing the Trojans to settle for a 43-yard FG just before the break.

Leinart completed nine straight passes to open the second half but faced a 4th-and-1 at the Texas 12 late in the third. From there, White broke through a stacked line and high-stepped it into the end zone to cap the nine-play, 74-yard march. There was 4:07 remaining in the third quarter of this heavyweight match with SC holding a 24-23 margin. Pino misfired on a 31-yard FG attempt to start the fourth quarter, negating a 45-yard Vince Young bob-and-weave that reached the USC 20. But VY was quick to encourage the senior, as well as teammates, when USC staked a 38-26 advantage, setting the stage for the famous final scene.

"It's all about heart, poise, and nobody getting frustrated with each other," Young said.

Ultimately, it came down to that 4th-and-5 from the eight. Unflappable and virtually unstoppable, Young was the thorn in the side of USC's Rose Bowl dreams.

"He's an X factor," said USC coach Pete Carroll. "He just takes off running and that's the issue. We weren't able to stop him."

And that's why the Horns are national champs. Now, I can die in peace.

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