Trojans Discover the Enemy Within, and an Era Ends Quietly

History died cruelly, unusually, extinguished by a killer who didn't even lose his breath.

Shortly after 9 p.m. Wednesday, Vince Young sprinted across the wet Rose Bowl grass as if skating.

There was no apparent sound. There was no visible sweat.

As the Texas quarterback ran toward me on the sideline, I heard nothing. As he cut past me into the end zone, unhurried and untouched, it was as if he were in slow motion.

He did not hoot. He did not howl. He did not even gasp. He crossed the faded white line, ran through the soggy red paint, and disappeared into a crowd in front of the stands as the referee threw up his arms.

Scott Ware, the USC safety, stood slumped over in a wordless daze. Frostee Rucker, the USC linemen, collapsed face-first into the turf without a whimper.

In the distance there were bands playing and a crowd roaring. But at the precise spot and exact moment it all ended for the USC Trojans, there was nothing.

The loudest college football era in Los Angeles history had died in silence.

"Look at me," the Trojans' Darnell Bing said later, still glued to the bench in his dirt-stained uniform 15 minutes after the game ended. "I'm still stuck here."

He speaks for not just a team, but a city in full shock today after its collection of local schoolkids, on the verge of becoming the first college football team to win three consecutive Associated Press national championships, was overwhelmed in the final minutes by Texas in a 41-38 defeat in the Rose Bowl.

"A really, really hard loss," said USC's LenDale White.

A loss despite having a 12-point lead with barely four minutes remaining.

A loss despite being one play and two yards from clinching the win.

A loss despite playing in front of a home crowd, with a 34-game winning streak, and the ball in the hands of two Heisman Trophy winners.

"We still think we are a better football team but we just couldn't make the plays," said Matt Leinart.

For once in his brilliant career here, he was wrong.

The Trojans were not the better team here.

Early, they were the more arrogant team. Late, they were the more knock-kneed team. By the time they stumbled off through somebody else's confetti, they were certainly the more exhausted team.

But they were not the better team.

Their defense was beaten into submission in giving up two late scores to the incredible Young, whose 467 total yards would give him the Heisman over USC's Reggie Bush in a recall election.

Their offense made dumb mistakes in the first half, and then couldn't gain two measly yards on one measly play in the fourth quarter.

Their coach blew it by not asking for a timeout that might have resulted in a replay review of a Texas first-half touchdown.

After nearly three full seasons of being a team of big moments, this time the moment was bigger.

"We should have had 21 points in the first half, and we screwed it up," said Coach Pete Carroll.

Yes, the first half is a good, if not ghoulish, place to start.

First, the Longhorns blew it.

A fumbled punt gave the Trojans the ball around midfield. A late hit helped them to a touchdown and a seven-point lead.

But then, the Trojans blew it. And blew it. And blew it. And blew it.

First blown play: Driving deep in Longhorn territory on a path to make it 14-0, they went for a fourth-and-one play with an empty backfield.

Leinart's sneak was stopped while Bush watched from the slot and White watched from the bench.

Two players who later surpassed the record combined touchdown totals of Army's Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard were Mr. Absent and Mr. Missing.

Second blown play: On USC's next drive, after a 37-yard run on a screen pass from Leinart, with the ball deep in Texas territory again, Bush inexplicably tried to pitch the ball to ... Brad Walker? A receiver who hasn't touched the ball all season? Seriously?

Texas recovered the fumble and drove down for a field goal.

Said Bush: "I got caught up in the moment. I tried to do too much."

Third blown play: On the next drive, Leinart found Steve Smith in the corner of the end zone. But Texas' Michael Griffin sprinted across the end zone at the last minute for a goal-line interception that was preventable.

Leinart either throws it harder, or Smith comes back and fights for the ball, no?

Fourth blown play: After a long Texas drive, Young ran 10 yards and pitched the ball to Selvin Young, who scored from the 12. But before Young made the pitch, while in the grasp of Bing, his knee was clearly down. A replay official should have overruled it, but didn't.

Maybe if Carroll had called timeout before the extra point, the extra time and loud pressure from USC fans who watched the replay would have caused the official to at least look at it.

Instead, the touchdown was allowed, Texas led, 9-7, and the damage was done.

Where the Trojans should have been able to cruise in the second half, they were forced to continually take chances that Vince Young turned into yards.

On Texas' final two touchdown drives of 125 total yards, Young either ran or passed the ball on every play.

In the end, the Trojans were out of gas, out of luck, out of history.

"All I know is, everybody on our team left everything on the field," said White.

Including two inches that could have won the game.

There was a huge problem with White's run on fourth and two from the Texas 45-yard line with 2:09 remaining.

No, the problem was not with Carroll's decision to go for the first down. Those who will question that decision have clearly dropped in here on a parachute without seeing this team for the last five years.

When there is an opportunity to make a play to win a game, Carroll always goes for it. It is a philosophy that has won games. It is an attitude that has strengthened teams. "We had a chance to win the football game," Carroll said. "It's not even close."

Carroll made the right call. If the Trojans get the first down, the game is over.

But White, in surely his final run as a Trojan, made the wrong move. "I cut back too early," he admitted.

Running behind an offensive line with two All-Americans, a line that helped Bush win the Heisman, White somehow lost trust in his blocking and didn't follow the hole. He cut inside too quickly. He was stopped.

You knew Vince Young could not be stopped. You knew the game was over. But not before one final USC mistake, Carroll calling his last timeout before Texas' two-point conversion attempt. If the timeout had been saved, the Trojans might have had a better chance of setting up a tying field goal.

When the game was finally over, you just didn't expect it to be so quiet, a dynasty toppled by a whisper.

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

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