USC Tops Illinois In Rose Bowl Rout
Jan. 1, 2008
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- The loose balls? Southern California came up with them. Those crazy plays? They all went USC's way, too.
The Trojans were every bit as good as advertised and the Rose Bowl was even more lopsided than expected. Freshman tailback Joe McKnight finished with 170 of USC's 633 yards in a record-setting romp Tuesday, 49-17 over outmatched Illinois.
Sixth-ranked USC (11-2) tied a Rose Bowl record with the 49 points and the total offense was a record, too. The blowout gave the Trojans 11 wins for an unprecedented sixth straight season and made them 5-1 in their last six bowl games, all of them BCS affairs.
The game featured 1,078 yards of offense. Despite the margin, things were truly competitive for a brief moment. Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall broke a 79-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter to trim what had been a three-touchdown deficit to 21-10.
Minutes later, Mendenhall scooted 55 yards with a screen pass from Juice Williams, and Ron Zook's 13th-ranked Illini (9-4) were looking as if they might really complete the impossible dream, from 2-19 over the last two years to Rose Bowl champions.
Then came the play of the game, when John David Booty threw a sloppy lateral to McKnight, who didn't catch it, but was able to scoop it up on the bounce and run 65 yards. McKnight was chased down by defensive back Vontae Davis -- yes Zook is recruiting some speed to Champaign -- but four plays later, Booty hit Fred Davis with a 2-yard touchdown pass and the rout was on.
Booty threw for 255 yards and three scores to set a Rose Bowl career record with seven TDs.
USC linebacker Rey Maualuga had three sacks and an interception for a defense that allowed only 79 yards in the first half.
McKnight, hyped as USC's next Reggie Bush, finished with 125 yards rushing and 45 yards receiving, and his broken play in the third quarter wasn't the only time the Trojans made something crazy and unexpected happen.
It started in the first quarter, when Booty lateraled to Garrett Green, who is listed as a receiver-quarterback, and Green threw crossfield to Desmond Reed for a 34-yard touchdown strike and a 14-0 lead. Reed was so open, he could've walked into the end zone, but instead did a leaping front tuck. Stuck the landing, too, but got six points instead of a perfect 10.0, and also was docked a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.
That made no difference, and in the end, Illinois' nice little stretch of competitiveness in the third quarter was only a blip, as well.
Mendenhall finished with 214 total yards in what could be the last college game for the junior. Williams had 245 yards passing for the Illini, whose last Rose Bowl trip came 24 years ago and ended in a 45-9 loss to quarterback Rick Neuheisel and UCLA.
The score this time was similar, and not totally unexpected.
The Illini were 13 1/2 -point underdogs -- biggest of any of this season's 32 bowl games -- and the final score only added fuel to the fire of those who criticized the Rose Bowl for passing on other available teams, maybe Georgia or Hawaii, and insisting on a Pac-10-Big Ten matchup.
Meanwhile, USC was said to be playing the best football of anyone when the regular season ended, and didn't do anything to debunk that theory.
Coach Pete Carroll, a proponent of a playoff, lobbied for the Trojans to have LSU's spot in next week's national title game, the first to include a team with two losses. But a 24-23 loss to 41-point underdog Stanford in October was USC's undoing.
On this day at the sunsplashed Rose Bowl, it was hard to imagine the Trojans losing to Stanford.
Not that they were perfect.
Early in the game, a snap sailed over punter Greg Woidneck's head and he had to scramble to get off a 20-yard punt. Later, Justin Harrison picked off Booty's pass and returned it to the USC 20, but Illinois couldn't score off that. Also in the first half, Harrison pulverized receiver Vidal Hazelton and sent the ball flying out, only to redirect into the waiting hands of McKnight.
The common denominator in all was that was that Illinois gave itself chances to make big plays but couldn't cash in on any.
And the Trojans, like any championship team, were in the right place at the right time for all of it.