Perfect Ending To Perfect Season
Jan. 5, 2005
|2005 National Championship Orange Bowl
USC 55, Oklahoma 19
By RALPH D. RUSSO
AP Sports Writer
MIAMI (AP) - Matt Leinart and his Southern California teammates played toperfection, leaving no doubt about this national championship.
Even better, they don't have to share it.
The Heisman Trophy winner threw a record five touchdown passes and USCoverwhelmed Oklahoma 55-19 Tuesday night in the Orange Bowl, assuring theTrojans will end the season just as they started: No. 1.
'I think we proved tonight that we are the No. 1 team in the countrywithout a doubt,' Leinart said.
The much-anticipated battle of unbeatens, No. 1 vs. No. 2, turned into acoronation for USC, which had to settle for a share of the nationalchampionship last year after being left out of the Bowl Championship Seriestitle game.
That was no consolation for unbeaten Auburn, the odd team out of the BCStitle game this season.
The Tigers (13-0) stated their case with a 16-13 victory over Virginia Techin the Sugar Bowl on Monday night and could have done no worse than Oklahomaagainst Southern Cal. But they can only hope for second when the finalAssociated Press poll is released early Wednesday morning.
'We didn't expect it to be this easy, but the game went our way from thebeginning,' USC coach Pete Carroll said. 'I was a little surprised.'
USC surely will become the first team to repeat as AP national championssince Nebraska in 1994-95 and join Florida State in 1999 as the only teams togo wire-to-wire - from preseason to post bowls - as No. 1.
USC was shut out of last season's BCS title game, despite topping both theAP Top 25 and coaches' poll at the end of the regular season. The BCS computerrankings favored Oklahoma, even though the Sooners lost the Big 12 title game35-7.
Oklahoma then washed out in the BCS championship game, losing to LSU in theSugar Bowl 21-14 to give the Tigers the top spot in the coaches' poll.
The Trojans wrapped up their 2003 national title three days before the BCSchampionship game by beating Michigan 28-14 in the Rose Bowl.
They won't have to wait for their trophy this season.
With the aide of four Oklahoma turnovers, the Trojans (13-0) ambushed theSooners (12-1) with 38 points in the final 20 minutes of the first half.
'I think they're great, and they sure proved it,' Oklahoma coach BobStoops said. 'We just got whupped.'
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville was on hand to witness the rout in a game hebelieved his team should have been playing in.
'It's a little empty feeling,' Tuberville said of being at the OrangeBowl. 'You want to have some kind of recognition. I'm going to take my ownpoll.'
'I'd like to play the winner of this game,' Tuberville said at halftime,trying to be kind because by then the winner was hardly in doubt.
The first meeting of Heisman winners couldn't have been more one-sided.Leinart set an Orange Bowl record with his five scoring tosses and Jason Whitespent another BCS title game running for his life.
Oklahoma's Heisman winner finished 24-of-36 for 244 yards with threeinterceptions and two touchdowns.
Leinart was 18-of-35 for 342 yards and he had the USC band playing 'FightOn' all night. The laid-back Californian who replaced Carson Palmer became thefirst Heisman winner to win a national title since Michigan's Charles Woodsonin 1997.
Leinart looked nothing like the overrated quarterback for an average offenseas Oklahoma defensive end Larry Birdine described him.
He tossed four scores in the first half as the Trojans turned an early 7-0deficit into a 38-10 halftime lead.
And when the demolition had ended, the Trojans bounced and danced their wayto the locker room, grooving in the end zone as Outkast's 'Hey Yeah' blaredthrough Pro Player Stadium. Meanwhile, the Sooners trudged off having alreadyallowed more points in a bowl game than any team in school history.
Leinart shrugged off Birdine's comment and played great in what could be hisfarewell to college football. The junior could be a top pick in the next NFLdraft.
He also got plenty of help. The Trojans reached a season high for points andturned the game into a USC highlight reel, with Leinart making pinpoint passesand his receivers making spectacular catches.
Steve Smith caught an Orange Bowl record three touchdowns, LenDale White ranfor 118 yards and two scores and the USC's defense smothered Oklahoma'sfreshman sensation Adrian Peterson.
Peterson, the Heisman runner-up, managed just 82 yards on 25 carries.
Senior Mark Bradley made a freshman mistake that set off one of those USCruns that have done in so many opponents during the Trojans' 22-game winningstreak.
The Sooners' most versatile player and the son of former Oklahomaquarterback Danny Bradley tried to scoop up a punt that had bounced inside theOklahoma 5. Collin Ashton grabbed on to Bradley, the ball squirted away and USCrecovered at the 6.
Bradley trudged back to the sideline, where he received some pats on thehead and back.
His mood no doubt worsened on the next play, when LenDale White reached theball over the goal line to give the Trojans a 14-7 lead late in the firstquarter.
USC made it 21 straight points with the help of Oklahoma's second turnover.Under pressure, White heaved a deep ball into quadruple-coverage and JasonLeach came up with USC's 20th interception of the season.
Then the Trojans went to work on Oklahoma freshman cornerback Marcus Walkerwith their own star freshman, Dwayne Jarrett.
The 6-foot-5 Jarrett went over the 5-11 Walker for an 18 yard gain onthird-and-8.
Walker ended up in no-man's land on the next play. He looked like he wantedto blitz but stopped. Meanwhile, Jarrett ran straight down the sideline andhauled in a perfect throw from Leinart for a 54-yard score.
The USC deluge continued.
White was upended while throwing and was picked off by Eric Wright deep inSooners territory.
This time Leinart found Steve Smith alone in the end zone from 5 yards out,to cap a four-touchdown barrage.
In a span of 10:10, USC turned a 7-0 deficit into a 28-7 lead that left theSooners looking dumbfounded.
Oklahoma drove for a field goal on the next possession, but all it did wasgive USC enough time to catch its breath.
Reggie Bush ripped off a 33-yard run to start the Trojans on their way andLeinart again picked on a secondary that looked like Oklahoma's soft spot muchof the season.
Leinart went deep to Smith, who hauled in a 33-yarder while hitting theground to make it 35-10.
Coach Pete Carroll greeted Leinart with a hug after the left-hander's fourthtouchdown pass. Leinart gave a sly grin as he glanced up at the scoreboard.
Oklahoma's season-high fourth turnover, led to Ryan Killeen's 44-yard fieldgoal just before halftime.
An aching White trudged into and then limped through the Sugar Bowl lastyear. But he was spry and agile against the Trojans at the start.
He rolled out, scrambled and stepped up in the pocket while completing fourof his first five passes for 75 yards. He finished the 92-yard TD drive byzipping a 5-yarder to Travis Wilson.
Leinart answered quickly, hitting four straight and finding Dominique Byrddeep down the middle for a spinning, one-handed 33-yard touchdown. It was thefirst touchdown the Sooners had allowed in four games.
And it would only get worse from there for the Sooners.