Column: USC-Texas Rose Bowl game wasn’t all that great


It’s interesting that so many people claim the last time USC and Texas played football it was one of the greatest college games ever.

Standing on the sidelines in Pasadena that night as Vince Young nearly flattened me on his way to history, I thought it was one of the worst.

This week, everyone wants to remember the 2006 Rose Bowl for the amazing Texas comeback that gave the Longhorns a 41-38 victory and a national championship.


To me, the most amazing thing was how badly USC blew it.

The Trojans were a better team. They should have been leading by double digits early but stumbled. They led by a dozen points late but couldn’t hold it. Their stars should have been carried off the field with a third consecutive national title but instead trudged off as victims of both hubris and human frailty.

It’s fine to paint this as Texas’ finest moment, but to remember it honestly is to equally acknowledge it as one of USC’s darkest moments. And here’s guessing that some longtime Trojans fans filling the Coliseum late Saturday afternoon would agree.

When USC hosts Texas in their first matchup since that fateful night 11 years ago, many of the cheers will be surely fueled by a different sort of revenge. It won’t be revenge against Longhorns players and coaches who are long gone from the program. It won’t even be revenge against Texas itself, which has a new coach and rebuilding group that will be lucky to come within three touchdowns of the Trojans.

Instead, it will be revenge for a moment lost, history vanished, invincibility disappeared, an all-time greatness that was in their grasp and then gone forever.

It will be revenge for the moment Young dashed into the corner of the end zone from eight yards away with 17 seconds left for the winning touchdown, nearly stepping on my feet, USC players chasing him with eyes wide in complete confusion.


It will be revenge for the moments of pain afterward, Trojans safety Darnell Bing still sitting on the bench 15 minutes after the game, staring out at the confetti-streaked debacle.

“Look at me,’’ Bing said the time. “I’m stuck here.’’

For 11 years, some USC fans have been stuck there, affixed to the past by plays so disappointingly memorable they come with their own titles.

Long before Fourth and Two, there was Fourth and One

Nearly three hours before LenDale White was stopped on the infamous play that could have clinched the game, the Trojans began losing with another awful decision during a similar short-yardage situation.

Midway through the first quarter, fourth down, one yard needed to continue a drive that could have turned a 7-0 lead into 14-0, the ball on the Texas 17-yard line, and the Trojans run … a quarterback sneak out of an empty backfield? Seriously?

While Matt Leinart was being stuffed for no gain, Reggie Bush was standing helpless in the slot and leading rusher White was on the sidelines. The team with two NFL running backs used neither on a running play that could have changed the game.


Don’t forget that offensive whiz Norm Chow had left the team the previous offseason to become offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, a breakup with coach Pete Carroll that had lasting ramifications. The co-coordinators were Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian.

The night was not their finest moment.

Next up, going down, The Lateral

You know what this is about. Oh yeah, you know. It was the second play of the second quarter. The Trojans were leading, 7-0. Bush had caught a pass from Leinart and blazed 37 yards to the Texas 19-yard line, once again putting USC in a position to double its advantage. But as Bush was being tackled, he lateraled the ball toward a walk-on wide receiver named Bradley Walker, a kid who had not caught a ball all season.

The surprised Walker unsurprisingly missed it, Texas recovered, drove for a field goal, and suddenly it was a game.

Why, why, why? Eleven years later, millions still want to know why Bush threw that ball. Bush has never explained it other than to say, “We tried to do too much.’’ A Times story this week by Zach Helfand revealed that Bush and receiver Chris McFoy practiced that play days before the game. Could Bush have thought Walker was McFoy? Except McFoy wasn’t in the game at the time.

Another guess is that Bush was so special he thought he could do anything and get away with it. In many hard ways, he has learned otherwise.


Upon further review, The Phony Touchdown

With 4:57 left in the second quarter, Vince Young ran a dozen yards and was tackled to his knee as he pitched the ball to Selvin Young, who ran 10 more yards for a touchdown to give Texas a 9-7 lead.

Vince Young was clearly down. The replays showed it. The replay officials didn’t feel strongly enough to review it, but they never really had time to review it, which shifts the blame to Carroll. Why didn’t he call a timeout? Why didn’t he stop play long enough for somebody to scream to an official to check the monitor and overturn the play?

Finally, Fourth and Two

This play, which occurred with USC leading by five points with 2:13 remaining in the game, has been dissected to death for 11 years, so let’s get to the main two points.


Carroll made the right call in going for a first down on fourth-and-two from the Texas 45-yard line. He took similar chances during his entire USC tenure. This boldness empowered the players and changed the Trojans’ culture. Besides, two yards for a third national championship with one of the greatest offenses in college football history? Of course you go for it.

However, it was a horrendous call to keep Heisman Trophy winner Bush on the sidelines for that play. While the ball still should have been givento White, the defense might not have been so swarming had Bush been standing in the slot, or in the backfield, or anywhere that would attract attention.

White was inches short of the first down. Who knows if forcing an extra defender or two to watch Bush would have given White that inch? Sure, USC was just executing its usual short-yardage package, but maybe with a title on the line the Heisman guy should be on the field.

Poorly Timed Timeout

Lost in the furor over Young’s winning touchdown run was Carroll’s odd use of a timeout before the two-point conversion attempt that finalized the score.

It was USC’s last timeout, and even though there were only 19 seconds remaining, it would have come in handy on the ensuing Trojans drive that ended on the Texas 43-yard line. Hmmm. One more pass, 20 more yards, a field-goal attempt to send it into overtime, and who knows?


The lost timeout was typical of the confusion that engulfed the Trojans in those final minutes as they were crushed by the amazing Young and steamrolled into a sad chapter in their history.

The greatest game never.

Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke