(Young celebrates after the win. Photo by John Biever, SI Photos)
USC came into the 2006 Rose Bowl looking to induct themselves into the pantheon of college football. A win would give them 35 consecutive victories and their third straight national championship -- a feat that hadn't been accomplished in over 70 years. Yet in the end, it was Vince Young and the underdog Longhorns who basked in the glory.
Texas was by far the toughest opponent the Trojans faced over their three-year run. The Longhorns scored a record 652 points in the 2005 season and blew away every team they faced, except for a road game against #4 Ohio State. Texas' dominance had even placed them atop the BCS rankings for two weeks, impressive when factoring in USC’s winning streak. It was also the first time the Trojans faced an undefeated team in the championship game.
The first half of the Rose Bowl featured several uncharacteristic errors and misjudgments on the side of USC. Early in the first quarter, they went for it on fourth-and-1 and were stopped at the line of scrimmage; they could have kicked a 34-yard field goal. In the second period, Leinart completed a 35-yard pass to Reggie Bush who, at the end of the run, foolishly tried to lateral the ball to an unsuspecting teammate as he was being tackled. The pass resulted in a fumble and Texas recovered.
Another failed opportunity for the Trojans came with 6:50 left in the second when Texas' Michael Griffin intercepted a down field shot at the end zone. On their next possession, Vince Young tried the same thing Bush did on his run attempt. Vince Young pitched it to running back Selvin Young, who made the catch and raced into the end zone to put the Longhorns on top. However, the replays clearly showed that Vince Young’s knee was down before he got the toss off. USC did not challenge the play and allowed Texas to keep their fraudulent touchdown.
At the end of the half, Texas led 16-10. Had USC not committed those mistakes, they likely would’ve left with the lead.
(Reggie Bush ran for 82 yards and a TD. Photo by Robert Beck, SI Photos)
The second half was outlined by both teams’ outstanding offense. Never before had both competitors in a bowl game averaged 50 points per game in the regular season. Leinart and Young combined to throw just one incomplete pass in the final fourteen minutes of the third, though it was the running game that put both teams on the board. LenDale White rushed for a pair of touchdowns and Vince Young tallied one of his own. Entering the fourth period, Texas only trailed by one (thanks to their kicker missing an extra point).
Reggie Bush, who was otherwise overshadowed by White all game, had one mesmerizing run near the beginning of the fourth: a 26-yard touchdown run where Bush leaped yards short of the end zone and landed just inside the pylon. On USC’s next possession, Leinart found Dwayne Jarrett for 22 yards at the goal line. Jarrett caught it between two defenders but was still able to pivot and lunge the ball into the goal area. Both defenders were hurt on the play and USC grasped a commanding 12-point advantage with 6:42 left.
That was more than enough time for Vince Young. The quarterback who had led the nation in passer efficiency started using his feet in clutch situations. On second-and-4, Young couldn’t find anyone and raced into the end zone standing up; he would rely on his running game several more times the rest of the way.
Southern California was determined to run out the clock. After LenDale White got them within two yards of the first down, the Trojans were looking at fourth-and-2 on the Texas 45. With 2:13 left in the game, Pete Carroll once again decided to go for it on fourth down. White ran directly down the middle and was halted just shy of the first. Texas was once again given a gift from the Trojans and once again capitalized on it.
Young found several receivers and ran the ball when he couldn’t find anyone. A USC facemask gave Texas a first down as the Longhorns continued to march towards the touchdown. Twice Young tried to connect with a receiver in the end zone and twice it was incomplete. That set up the Longhorns with one decisive play: fourth-and-5, 26 seconds left, eight yards from the goal line.
(Young runs in the for the game-winner. Photo by Robert Beck, SI Photos)
With the game and the season on the line, Vince Young backed into the pocket, failed to find an open receiver, took off to the right and streamed at the corner of the end zone, putting the Longhorns on top for good. The Texas portion of the crowd erupted as the USC bench sulked. Young ran again for the two-point conversion and, as he had done all night, completed it.
With no timeouts, USC was only able to run two plays before the clock ticked down to zero. Texas had won: 41-38.
(Young's performance earned him the MVP. Photo by John Biever, SI Photos)
Only after the game ended could the scope of Young’s performance be appreciated. Overall, he went 30-40 with a grand total of 467 yards, 200 of which had come on the ground. His 467 yards were a Rose Bowl record.
Young’s tremendous game elevated him among the top candidates to be the No. 1 pick in the ‘06 draft. Matt Leinart, who came back solely to win a third championship, played great and threw for 365 yards. Leinart, Young, and Bush were scrutinized so heavily in their draft workouts that none of the three were drafted number one. Young did poor on the Wonderlic test, Leinart was thought to have too weak of a throwing arm, and Bush was said to be too small. Leinart’s free fall was especially harsh. The probable number one pick from the previous year fell all the way to No. 10, where he was picked up by the Arizona Cardinals.