PASADENA, CALIF. — PASADENA, Calif.-- --Maybe Reggie Bush was the best player in college football this season, but Texas quarterback Vince Young made a pretty convincing argument last night that the Heisman Trophy went to the wrong guy.
There was no question that on this glittering night at the Rose Bowl, Young was the man and - by the simple force of his will - the Longhorns were the best college football team in the nation.
He had 467 all-purpose yards. Bush had 281. Young scored three touchdowns, including the decisive score with 19 seconds left to play to win his second Rose Bowl Most Valuable Player trophy in a row. Bush scored one touchdown and made a momentum-shifting mental error in the first half that probably was the turning point in the game.
Young took advantage of the internationally televised opportunity to refute the Heisman voters and almost single-handedly put an end to USC's 34-game winning streak and the Trojans' dream of becoming the first team in NCAA history to win three consecutive Associated Press national titles.
It was an instant classic, as many had forecast, a game so closely contested that the Rose Bowl scoreboard crew accidentally congratulated USC for winning the 2006 BCS championship before quickly correcting the mistake and giving the Longhorns their due.
Maybe somebody in the booth fell asleep after the first quarter, because there was a point early in the game when it appeared the only thing the flashy USC offense wouldn't carve up last night would be Bevo, the massive mascot of the No. 2 Texas Longhorns.
The Trojans looked every bit the top-ranked, two-time national champions in the first quarter and the Longhorns looked as star-struck as they seemed throughout the pre-game buildup.
The 'Horns were reeling and the Trojans were rolling and then it all unraveled faster than O.J.'s alibi.
So much for those "Bevo: It's what's for dinner" T-shirts that had become so popular around Exposition Park. The menu changed in a hurry when USC's vaunted Heisman duo of Bush and Matt Leinart got a little full of themselves.
Who would have thought it would be Bush - and not Young - who initially would puncture USC's aura of invincibility? The Trojans appeared to be grinding toward an early 14-0 lead when Bush suddenly decided to throw caution to the wind and ad-lib a bit at the end of a 37-yard pass play.
His unscripted, unsuccessful pitch to receiver Brad Walker was recovered by the Longhorns at their 19, and Young drove Texas back the other way to set up a 46-yard field goal. It wouldn't be apparent for a few more minutes, but it turned out to be a quantum shift in the momentum of the game.
There was only one explanation for Bush's brain cramp - hubris, which would haunt the Trojans again before the end of the first half. They drove down the field again and all but proved the Longhorns' defense was no match for the rushing combination of Bush and LenDale White, but Leinart couldn't resist going for it all from the 25-yard line and was intercepted in the end zone.
"We tried to do too much," Bush said afterward.
"That was a huge factor in the game," coach Pete Carroll said.
It looked as if the Trojans spent a little too much of the past month reading their press clippings. Either that or they really do have an unparalleled sense for the dramatic. The Longhorns got into the end zone on each of their next two possessions to put the USC dynasty on 33 minutes' notice.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not taking anything away from the performance of Young, who stepped up with an amazingly efficient example of his offensive versatility in the first half, but there was a time in the game when the Longhorns were getting spanked despite him.
What he did so well was keep his head while the Trojans were losing theirs and somehow took his team into the locker room with a 16-10 lead.
Everyone knew he had the potential to dissect a USC defense that had been dissected by lesser teams on a couple of occasions during the Trojans' undefeated season, but what was so impressive early on was how well he executed the Longhorns' attack while everything seemed to be falling apart around him.
He completed 13 of 15 passes for 113 yards in the first half and rushed for 60 yards, averaging more than 8 yards every time he made a play. He responded again after the Trojans came back from a nine-point deficit to take the lead in the third quarter, completing an 80-yard drive with a 14-yard sprint into the end zone.
With that run, Young became only the fifth player to rush for more than 100 yards against the Trojans in their past 46 games. He later would become the first quarterback in NCAA history to reach 1,000 yards rushing and 2,500 yards passing in the same season ... and the first one not to win the Heisman Trophy.
So much for the notion that the game would turn on the statistical gap between the two defenses (Texas ranked fifth in Division I-A, USC 35th), which evaporated in the second-half shootout between Leinart and Young, turning the game into the generational classic that had been anticipated since this matchup was set in early December.