PASADENA, Calif. – OK, how many folks out there would like to recast their Heisman Trophy ballots?
USC running back Reggie Bush easily separated him self from the runner-up, Texas quarterback Vince Young, when the top individual prize in college football was handed out in New York City on Dec. 10.
Wednesday night in the Rose Bowl, during a national championship game that, for a change, actually exceeded the hyperbole leading up to it, Young used his nimble feet and right arm to separate his Longhorns from Bush's Trojans – and give his team a national championship in the process.
"That's an extremely fantastic player,'' USC Coach Pete Carroll said, after Young – uh, the Longhorns – had knocked off the Trojans, 41-38.
Yeah, that he is – and then some, Pete.
Young's numbers – 200 yards and three touchdowns running, including the winning dash from nine yards out, on 4th-and-6, with 19 seconds to go; and 30 completions in 40 pass attempts for 267 more yards – were staggering.
But they were no more so than was the fashion Young in which he seemed to almost tease and toy with the USC defense.
Of course, Young didn't do it all by himself. His line, with the fact that Young spent the whole game in a shotgun formation buying it a few seconds extra time to protect him and create running lanes, was dominant the entire night.
And All-America left tackle Jonathan Scott never made a block as critical as the one that steered the Trojans' Lawrence Jackson away just as he was bearing down on Young's backside, enabling Young, with his receivers blanketed, to sprint to his right and into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
Before that final drive – and more on its genesis in a bit – it appeared as if the collective offensive heroics of Bush (who was "held" to 82 yards rushing, including a 26-yard scoring burst in the fourth quarter that was the only time the Longhorns' defense let him turn the corner on it), Matt Leinart (365 yards throwing), LenDale White (124 yards and three touchdowns in what was, like fellow junior Bush, no doubt his final college game) and Dwayne Jarrett (10 catches for 121 yards and his team's final touchdown) was going to push the Trojans to their 35th victory in a row.
In fact, after Leinart and Jarrett hooked up for a 24-yard touchdown pass play with 6:42 to go, and Mario Danelo split the uprights, USC held a 38-26 advantage.
In reality, the Longhorns had the game right where it wanted – with the ball in Young's hands.
"It's really surreal, sitting there in the fourth quarter down (12 points), playing a team that had won 34 in a row, and still thinking we're going to win the game,'' Texas coach Mack Brown, even as the bulk of those 40,000 or so wearing burnt orange lingered in the Rose Bowl stands and on the field celebrating.
"But we never thought we'd lose this game."
Having the guy wearing jersey No. 10 who put on nearly the same caliber of display (372 yards, running and throwing) in this building in last year's Rose Bowl win over Michigan will empower a coach with a great deal of confidence.
"I think he is one of the great players to ever play college football,'' Brown said of Young.
"And, if he comes back next year, which I think he will," he added, perhaps a bit optimistically, "he has a great chance to win the Heisman Trophy."
OK, back to that decisive scoring drive by the Longhorns.
And get ready for the rationale on Carroll's part that many, no doubt, had – and will continue to have – a tough time grasping.
The Trojans had crunched the Texas defense for scoring drives of 62, 74, 80 and 80 yards in the second half.
And that's why, even as Young scored on a 17-yard scramble to the right and David Pino booted the conversion that cut USC's advantage to 38-33 with 4:03 to go, the Trojans still seemed well in control of the ultimate outcome.
But after Jarrett snagged a pass from Leinart for a first down, White was held to a 3-yard gain, fullback Brandon Hancock couldn't handle a short pass from Leinart and White went over the right side of his line for five yards.
So, with fourth-and-two on the Texas 45, with 2:13 remaining after a Longhorns' timeout, does Carroll send Tom Malone onto the field to punt and create as much real estate between Young and the end zone as possible?
Well, no . . .
Malone wasn't coming onto the field, which Brown was aware of during the timeout.
"I told the team,'' Brown said, "that if we stop this play, we're going to win the national championship.''
White was stacked up, maybe three inches of a first down, and Young and his buddies were back on the field with 2:09 remaining, two timeouts as safety nets and only 56 yards to navigate.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your second-guessing.
"For us, at the time, it was the exactly right thing to do," Carroll said. "We get it and the game is over. In our way of thinking, you're going for it every time."
Moments later, he was asked about the decision again.
"It's really simple," he explained, "on the series before he'd (Young) had great success moving the ball. Whether they get it at their 40 or 20 yards further out (after a punt), it's not going to make much difference. The difference is if you make it (the first down), you're running and squatting on the ball to win the game."
In reality, maybe he was right. Ultimately, it didn't matter from where Young was operating, he was going to get into the end zone. And there wasn't a darn thing the Trojans were going to be able to do to stop him.
"Young is so unique," Carroll said. "He was the X factor."
No arguments here.
An April inductee into the USBWA Hall of Fame, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national columnist and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.FrankHoops.com
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