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Sunday Morning Quarterback

Sunday Morning Quarterback

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

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First: LenDale White? Wow. Reggie Bush? Wow. Both offensive lines? Wow. Vince Young? Good God.

Make no mistake - after watching Texas and USC slug it out for more than four hours, SMQ is convinced USC is, overall, the better team. But Vince Young...what a player. What we saw Wednesday was a tell-your-kids performance, a rare spectacle of top notch, spectacular amateur guts that only comes along about once a decade, the only possible show that could have topped Young's impossibly spectacular Rose Bowl performance last year.

For the record, these are Young's numbers:
30 of 40, 267 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 20 rushes, 200 yards, 3 TD
But that doesn't quite do justice to the way VY put an entire team on his back, against one of the great teams in recent college football history, and singlehandedly vaulted himself into the lineup of the great, great college players in history. Probably the best argument that could ever be made for the Heisman to be awarded after the bowl games.

There are going to be a lot of accolades foisted upon this Rose Bowl, it being decided as it was in the final seconds, but don't let anyone fool you into believing it quite matched the overtime thriller of Ohio State-Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. It was a sensational game, for sure, but one that ultimately lacked the defensive element necessary for truly great games, the greatest of the great. Both offenses wound up with too little resistance to the end zone in the second half for SMQ's taste.

Of course, SMQ was also biased by potential financial gains: with five minutes remaining, and the score USC 38, Texas 26, SMQ held the lead in his office pool, a contest that spanned the entire bowl season but ultimately came down to a points-scored tie-breaker in the final game. SMQ had USC and 59 total points; needless to say, his late lead vanished, along with it his chances even at consolation dollars to make up for his required contribution to enter the game. Se la vie? Dammit.

At the end of the first half, with the Trojans freshly down 16-7 with a little under three minutes left, SMQ told his roommate, "USC's going to go down and score right here." And so they did, even if it was only a field goal to narrow the halftime gap to six. SC came out in the second half and further confirmed SMQ's confidence with touchdowns on four straight second half possessions. His assumption, based on SC's previous gutsy performances in tough spots at Arizona State and Notre Dame, was that the Trojans were essentially the better team, unstoppable when motivated, ultimately the unvanquishable champion who always rises to the occasion when pressed.

This same sentiment, the same one that led SMQ to reluctantly (and very wrongly, of course) predict a Trojan blowout, led him to believe SC's overwhelming fourth down stop of Selvin Young in the first quarter was the first of many signs illustrating the Trojans' dominance and experience, which would cause an eventual self-destruction on the part of UT.

And maybe, had Dwayne Jarrett connected with an open Steve Smith on a tricky throwback call on the first play following the stop, SC would have picked up the decisive momentum and run away with the game.

As it happened, though, Texas was the team that showed the championship fortitude.

There was a very good opportunity, at 38-26 with under nine minutes remaining, for Texas to say, "great shot, guys" and pack it in against the champs. Instead, the Longhorns drove for a touchdown. Then, facing a crucial, do-or-die fourth and two at midfield, against an offensive line that had dominated it and consistently rolled it away to open lanes for White on clutch short-yardage plays throughout the game, Texas' defense stepped up and buried White short of the first down to give its offense another shot. And finally, of course, there was Young's penultimate fourth-and-five, winning touchdown scramble, which only he - or someone named 'Vick' - could make look so easy.

Give Texas a ton of credit here: USC made a ton of plays, but it was the Longhorns who delivered in the decisive, championship-level clutch situations Wednesday. Not only is Young an incredible athlete, which we all knew already - he's a first class winner, too.

LenDale White, behind the Trojans' awesome line, outshone his more heralded, hardware-wielding backfield mate for most of the game, but Reggie Bush's third quarter touchdown run was a jaw dropper. Never can SMQ recall any back hitting the corner and turning a play up the sideline with that kind of acceleration, to say nothing of the leap into the end zone at the end. That is what they mean by the term "burst."

Of course, Bush also made the bonehead play of the game, one that may have ultimately cost USC the mythical championship. The Most Outstanding College Football Player in the Nation, his team up 7-0, in the midst of picking up major yards into Texas territory on a spectacular run after catch on a screen pass to open the second quarter, committed one of the game's cardinal sins: the Random Lateral.

SMQ has always been emphatic about this: never, ever, should a lateral even cross the mind of any player at any point in the normal course of a game unless his team is in a desperate, last-second situation which requires it, a la a Cal-Stanford, Bills-Titans, Saints-Jaguars, Michigan-Nebraska scenario. The second play of the second quarter does not qualify.

So, instead of putting his team in excellent position to go up two scores with momentum, Bush stunned millions - including his ill-timed pitch's intended recipient - by flipping the ball up into the air without warning, after which it - surprise! - rolled onto the turf for all-comers to grapple. This single stunningly bad decision negated a great run and an eminent scoring opportunity and allowed Texas to regain the momentum it would use to drive for its first points of the game.

So he was down. So maybe it was kind of, almost a borderline forward lateral. SMQ and roommate basked nonetheless in Young's EA Sports Memorial 20 Yards Downfield Option Pitch to Selvin Young for UT's first touchdown in the second quarter, an unselfish move that doesn't even show up in the box score for Young.

After Ramonce Taylor's 30-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to put Texas up 16-7, SMQ jotted down in his notebook the words, "USC can't tackle." The Trojans didn't do anything to change his opinion in the second half. Vince Young was exceptional, to be sure, but the Trojans had him dead to rights more than once and slid off without so much as costing Young an extra step. Ditto Taylor's touchdown run and a long run by Jamaal Charles, when USC couldn't get the ballcarrier on the ground with the first man.

Notice SMQ has written up this fantastic game without once mentioning golden boy Matt Leinart to this point, and the guy threw for 278 yards.

For an unfortunate New Orleans Saints fan like SMQ, this game was also a chance to scout the beloved Saints' upcoming April draft pick. The assumption, being that Reggie Bush is a given at the first spot to Houston, was that the Saints would take Matt Leinart at No. 2. If Young were to defy expectations and declare himself eligible for the draft, though, SMQ urges New Orleans management: take Vince Young! Leinart is fine, but...take Vince Young! Please!

Finally, SMQ says congratulations to Texas for winning an outstanding game and vanquishing the doubters - SMQ included. Everyone respected the Longhorns, but few of us thought they could overcome a team that seemed so perfectly constructed for another championship. Not many could have outlasted such a talented, determined team as USC, and the legacy of this champion will reside as much in the fortitude required to beat such a team as USC it will in the dominance Texas showed all season.

Okay, now...it's the off-season! All-America teams, season reviews, final polls all lie ahead. You know, now that we have all the information on 2005 we're going to have, the fun stuff.
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9:41 PM

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And don't let the name fool ya - second guessing the phenomenal athletic feats and split-second decisions of college kids under extreme physical duress is for every day of the week.

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