Game 13: Rose Bowl
Jan. 4, 2006
By Bill Frisbie
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.
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.
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.
Culpepper's Commentary: Rose Bowl
By Pat Culpepper
Fourth and five on the USC 8 yardline with 19 seconds left with Texas down 38-33; this is what happened as I saw it from the end zone 100-plus yards away through binoculars.
Texas on the right hash mark with Limas Sweed split into the sideline. Vince Young gets his 76th perfect snap of the game from Texas center Lyle Sendlein (74 of them with Young in the shotgun spread formation) and looks downfield. The Texas offensive line gives him precious time to scan the USC coverage and "feel" the rush. It's Jonathan Scott, Kasey Studdard, Sendlein, Will Allen and Justin Blalock fighting for all they are worth to give Young time, time to win a national championship. USC's defensive tackle La Juan Ramsey gets between Longhorn blockers to Young's left side but the Texas quarterback is already moving to his right looking directly at Sweed who has broken past USC cornerback Justin Wyatt.
USC defensive end Frostee Rucker has a chance at Young and grazes his jersey but Young sees the USC corner has turned his back to cover Sweed and he runs for it.
The Texas quarterback scores running though the end zone and into a sea of photographers. Fifty thousand Texas fans inside the bowl hug people they hardly know and scream with all the voice they have left. Millions of television viewers realized in that split second when Young started his stride through the end zone why college football is the best of all our American games.
It would have never ended in storybook fashion had not junior defensive end Brian Robison split a double team on fourth and two from the Texas 44 yardline with 2:09 remaining. USC had a five-point lead and LenDale White was looking more like Marcus Allen on every snap.
What was incredible and courageous about Robison's unselfish play was that in the previous series of downs 280-pound USC tight end Dominique Byrd had thrown a clean, devastating knockout block on Robison as the runner cut back. The Longhorn DE lay stunned for 35 seconds by my watch while trainers tried to determine the extent of damage. Coach Mack Brown saw the block and followed the white-suited training staff on the field. This was one of his warriors, down and maybe done. Like the Longhorn football team itself, Robison stood up and climbed back into the ring.
When you never quit you have a chance and this Longhorn football team that stands evermore as the fourth national championship unit to wear Burnt Orange and White came through a list of heavyweights: Michigan (by winning last year's Rose Bowl. Texas got the confidence to win a championship), Ohio State in the road, Oklahoma and finally the USC Trojans with a 34-game winning streak, back-to-back national titles and playing in their own backyard.
Robison was under a mountain of scarlet and gold USC bodies and a pile of dirty, white-uniformed Texans forming a wall which stopped the Trojan tailback inches short of clinching USC's third consecutive national championship.
Take away tight end David Thomas' 10 catches which resulted in critical first downs and Texas doesn't win.
Take away Michael Griffin's brilliant leaping interception in the Texas end zone and the Trojans are victorious.
Take away Drew Kelson's step for step coverage of USC's Reggie Bush 26 yards downfield in the last minutes of the third quarter and Texas loses.
Take away Frank Okam's pressure up the middle on Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart and USC wins.
Since the Texas Tech game in 2005 there has been a magical relationship between Vince Young, the Texas fans and offensive coordinator Greg Davis and his understanding of turning Young loose in the big games. Since that clear night in Lubbock when Davis unleashed college football's most dynamic single football player on quarterback sweeps, options, draws and the zone read, the Longhorns have been on the long road to a national championship.
It was apparent Vince Young was ready to run every down if that's what it took. His energy and leadership was boundless.
Just before the second half got underway Young strided to the Texas end zone, which was covered around the bowl in Burnt Orange, getting the crowd to their feet. All of us responded and then he turned and got down on one knee perhaps praying to the God that brought him out of the streets of Houston, that gave him men like coach Ray Seals of Madison High School that showed him the right kind of "gang" to be a member of. The Orangebloods in the stands got quiet then exploded in noise as Vince sprung up from his meditation and sprinted back to begin the 30-minute war.
I have to say the 1969 Arkansas-Texas shootout, the Cotton Bowl win over Notre Dame and this magnificent Rose Bowl's last-second win over USC are the greatest of all Texas victories.
The Texas secondary of Aaron Ross, Cedric Griffin, Michael Huff and Michael Griffin were brilliant in coverage and saved touchdowns at least four times by my accounts by their sure tackles.
USC's receiver Dwayne Jarrett was the best player I saw all year against the Longhorns. He survived a brutal collision by Michael Griffin and Tarell Brown to score a brilliant catch and dive into the end zone. Brown suffered a broken arm on the play.
But Vince Young's 200 yards rushing and 267 yards passing without an interception is the most sensational individual performance I've ever seen by a Texas player against a great opponent.
After the game, by chance the group I traveled with ended up at the hotel that was hosting the Trojan "victory" party. As we ate our late snacks in the quiet of the restaurant there were tired smiles from all of us, because we knew just what the magnificent silence meant -- The Texas Longhorns were the 2005 football National Champions!