Monday, January 01, 2007

USC Starts '07 in Style, Wins Rose Bowl

The Rose Bowl in Pasadena wasn't kind to USC in 2006. First there was the thrilling 41-38 loss in the BCS Title Game against Texas on January 4th. Then last month the Trojans, seemingly destined to be on their way to a third-consecutive BCS Title Game, were shocked by crosstown rival UCLA 13-9. Knocked out of championship contention, USC had a month to regroup and prepare for the 2007 Rose Bowl.

Their opponent was Michigan, a team that felt slighted after being leapfrogged by Florida in the BCS poll, which denied the Wolverines a rematch with Ohio State for the national championship. Already stinging from losing to its rival and being shut out of the title game, Michigan suffered another major blow on Tuesday when former president and standout Wolverine offensive lineman Gerald Ford passed away on Tuesday.

The Rose Bowl came to be perceived as the Consolation Bowl, with both participants having to settle for the Grandaddy of Them All instead of the national championship on January 8th. And early on it appeared both offenses didn't come to play. The running game was non-existent in the early going. The Trojans racked 19 yards on the ground. The Wolverines were even worse; limited to -2 rushing yards, thanks in large part to a tenacious USC defense that sacked QB Chad Henne six times.

As much as the offenses were stagnant, the defenses were ferocious. Lawrence Jackson, Sedrick Ellis and Brian Cushing constantly pressured Henne and stopped Wolverine star RB Michael Hart. LaMarr Woodley, Shawn Crable and the Michigan defense disrupted the Trojan attack, stifling the run and forcing a fumble from QB John David Booty. The teams exchanged field goals and ended the first half tied at 3.

The second half was a completely different story. Booty and the Trojans aired out the ball, usually with success. Junior WR Dwayne Jarrett, likely playing his last game in college, caught TD passes of 22 and 62 yards. DJ finished with 11 receptions, 205 yards, two scores and a highlight reel for NFL teams looking for a polished 6-5, 215 pound receiver. Seniors Steve Smith and Chris McFoy also caught touchdown passes. Booty finished with 27-for-45 for 391 yards and four TD's, leading USC to a convincing 32-18 win and erasing at least some of the bad Rose Bowl memories from '06.

Henne, despite being under constant duress, also had a fine performance. Henne threw 26-for-41 for 309 yards, two TD's and an interception. Michigan's two touchdowns came on fantastic plays; a blistering strike to a diving Adrian Arrington and a nice catch and 41-yard scamper by Steve Breaston.

Still it was the Trojans who make all the big plays this New Year's.

Early in the third, with the game still deadlocked, the Trojans swarmed Henne and forced a bad throw. Jackson intercepted the pass, energizing the USC bench and giving the offense great field position. After a fantastic 25-yard catch by Jarrett in double-coverage, Booty connected on the next play with a wide-open McFoy in the endzone. After a Michigan three-and-out, Booty hit Smith for 35 yards, down to the Michigan 22. Before the next play Booty recognized Jarrett one-on-one with the defender. Booty called an audible at the line. Jarrett ran an inside slant. Booty delivered the ball and Jarrett did the rest, knocking down the cornerback and jaunting in for the score.

Late in the third quarter, after the Wolverines cut the lead to 19-11, momentum seemed to be mounting for Michigan. USC had 3rd down and 10 on its own 38. How did the Trojans respond to the pressure? With a 62-yard connection from Booty to Jarrett. Touchdown.

As good as that sounds, the Trojans saved the best for last.

With the score 25-11 and 7:37 left in the game, many expected the Trojans to play conservative. Running the ball and relying on the defense made the most sense. Pete Carroll, however, determined the best defense is a good offense. Starting on their own 15-yard line, the Trojans put the game away with an amazing display of offensive finesse and dynamic playcalling. Booty first hit Smith down the left sideline for 25 yards. Next was a 29-yard haul by Jarrett in double-coverage. Following that was a 23-yard fade to TE Fred Davis. Booty completed the impressive drive with a 7-yard TD pass to Smith.

Four plays, four passes, four first downs, 85 yards, 70 seconds and the finishing touch in a 2007 Rose Bowl victory.

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