Photo courtesy of Texas athletics
Bring up big-time performances in big-time games over college football’s 150-plus years and there are plenty to reflect on.
One however, would be hard-pressed to find a player who shined brighter on the big stage than a Texas quarterback did on this day 15 years ago. Vince Young accounted for 467 total yards and rushed for three touchdowns to lead the Longhorns past USC in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena for the national championship, 41-38.
Setting the Stage
The two teams with the longest winning streaks in college football met in Pasadena on Jan. 4, 2006. Texas had won 19 straight and was 11-0 for the season as it arrived at the Rose Bowl. Ranked No. 2, the Longhorns had defeated Michigan in the Rose Bowl the year prior. With the exception of a thrilling win at Ohio State early in the 2005 season, no one had lost to Texas by fewer than 11 points.
No. 1 USC however, enjoyed life on the edge. Despite being 12-0, the reigning 2-time national champions had overcome three fourth-quarter deficits throughout the course of the year. USC arrived on a 34-game winning streak.
Young Delivers Texas
As the clock ticked under five minutes to play in the game, a 3-peat appeared inevitable for the Trojans. On a night where he threw for 365 yards, USC quarterback Matt Leinart passed for just one touchdown, but that 22-yard strike to Dwayne Jarrett gave the Trojans a 38-26 lead with less than seven minutes to play.
Needing two scores, Young was stellar for Texas the rest of the way. On the ensuing drive, Young completed five of his six pass attempts before using his legs to score from 17 yards away. The lead was cut to 38-33, but the Longhorns had to rely on a defense that had allowed four straight touchdown marches and five straight scoring drives to get a stop.
Leinart hit Jarrett for a first down on the second play of the ensuing drive, but three plays later, Texas looked as if it missed a big opportunity. After a 5-yard run on 3rd-and-7, USC running back LenDale White fumbled. Texas however, was unable to recover. USC faced 4th-and-2 as the game came down to one play.
The ball went to White, but the 235-pound back was stopped a yard short. With just over two minutes remaining, Young and the Longhorns took over at their own 44.
Three plays into the drive, Texas faced 3rd-and-12. Young would hit Quan Cosby for seven yards, but a face mask penalty gave Texas a first down.
Over the next five plays, Young would run for 12 yards and complete two passes to Brian Carter, totaling 26 yards. After a second incomplete pass from Young on the drive, the contest again came down to one play. Texas faced 4th-and-5 from the USC 8-yard-line.
There was little doubt that the game would be put in Young’s hands. Stopping him however, was another story. With 19 seconds remaining, the junior quarterback found a seam and scampered into the end zone. Texas led, 39-38.
Young added the 2-point conversion to give Texas a 3-point lead. Leinart and USC however, had some time. After a 26-yard completion to Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush moved the ball into Texas territory, Leinart’s desperation heave fell innocently to the turf.
Texas was national champions.
For the early parts of the contest, it didn’t look like a comeback would be necessary for Texas. White’s first of three rushing touchdowns gave USC an early lead, but Texas answered with the next 16 points.
After a David Pino field goal got Texas on the board in the second quarter, Selvin Young took a lateral from Vince Young into the end zone to give the Longhorns a 9-7 lead. Ramonce Taylor scored from 30 yards out less than three minutes later for the Longhorns, but Mario Danelo’s 43-yard field goal cut the deficit to 16-10 at the break.
The second half was less than five minutes old when White’s second touchdown put USC back in front. Texas regained the lead at 23-17 on Young’s 14-yard touchdown two minutes later. The next two touchdowns belonged to the Trojans.
After White’s 12-yard touchdown run late in the third put USC up 24-23, Bush scored from 26 yards out less than four minutes into the final period. Leinart’s touchdown pass to Jarrett followed a Pino field goal and gave USC the aforementioned 12-point lead.
White finished with 124 yards rushing to go with the three touchdown. Jarrett led all receivers with 121 yards receiving on 10 catches. Young rushed for a game-high 200 yards to go with his 267 yards passing for the Longhorns.
For USC, the loss snapped a 34-game winning streak. USC would later vacate all victories from the 2005 season along with the prior year’s national title. USC would go on to win the Pac-10 in each of the next three seasons under head coach Pete Carroll, but have not come all that close to a national championship since.
As for Texas, the victory made the Longhorns national champions for the first time in 35 years. The Longhorns would again play for the title in Pasadena four years later, but came up short against Alabama in a contest where quarterback Colt McCoy left early with an injury. Few believe that Texas would have won the 2005 title had it not been for the legendary performance from its quarterback that took place on this day 15 years ago.