Trojans Come Up Roses, Win 28-14 Over Michigan
Jan 1, 2004
By JOSH DUBOW
PASADENA, Calif. -Point made.
Top-ranked Southern California laid out its case for the national championship the best way it knew how - by dominating No. 4 Michigan with a 28-14 victory Thursday in the Rose Bowl.
Matt Leinart threw three touchdown passes and caught another to lead the Trojans past the Wolverines with a performance that should be enough to persuade voters to leave USC atop the poll.
The Associated Press' No. 1 team has never dropped in the rankings after winning its bowl, and it doesn't look as though it will happen this time, either.
"I think we just won the national championship," jubilant USC coach Pete Carroll said.
While the Trojans are primed to win their first title in 25 years, they would have to share it. Voters for the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll are obligated to crown the winner of Sunday's Sugar Bowl between No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Oklahoma, playing in the BCS championship game.
The Trojans were left out of the Bowl Championship Series title game because of a weaker schedule, but they felt right at home in front of a sellout crowd of 93,849.
The signature play came late in the third quarter when Mike Williams took a reverse handoff from Hershel Dennis and flicked an easy pass to Leinart, who jogged in for a 15-yard score that made it 28-7.
With the big lead, all the Trojans needed to do was run out the clock - and start waiting for the final AP poll early Monday morning. The fans had their answer already, chanting "We're No. 1! We're No. 1!" during the final minutes.
The victory caps USC's return to prominence after years of mediocrity. The Trojans went 31-29 in the five years before Carroll brought his youthful enthusiasm to one of college football's traditional powers.
He has combined his aggressive defensive style with offensive coordinator Norm Chow's sophisticated passing game to create a national power.
The Wolverines allowed only five touchdown passes all year before running into USC. Keary Colbert had six catches for 149 yards and two touchdowns, and LenDale White had the other scoring reception. The Trojans needed less than five minutes on their four scoring drives.
USC's "Wild Bunch II" defensive line put relentless pressure on John Navarre. Whenever Michigan seemed ready to mount a sustained drive, the Trojans came up with a big sack.
After building a 14-0 halftime lead, USC took control on the opening drive of the second half.
Leinart capped it with a perfect 47-yard scoring pass to Colbert, who caught the ball with one hand near the 25 despite being interfered with by Jeremy LeSueur. Colbert then broke a tackle and jogged in for the score.
Michigan answered with a 16-play drive, capped by Navarre's 5-yard pass to Tim Massaquoi to cut it to 21-7. But Williams' pass to Leinart put the game away.
The first traditional matchup of Pac-10 champion vs. Big Ten champion at the Rose Bowl in three years was billed as a shootout, but it was the defenses that controlled most of the first half.
Michigan went 14 plays on its opening drive but came up empty when Shaun Cody blocked Garrett Rivas' 47-yard field-goal attempt.
Ryan Killeen missed a 39-yard field goal for USC early in the second quarter before the Trojans broke through thanks to their defense.
On a third-and-18 from his 9, Navarre threw a pass that hit off receiver Braylon Edwards' foot and into the hands of Lofa Tatupu, who returned it 26 yards to the 3.
Navarre finished 27-of-46 for 271 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Heisman Trophy finalist Chris Perry ran for 85 yards.
The Trojans last won a share of the title in 1978, when they also beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl to win the coaches' poll, while Alabama took the AP title. USC hasn't won the AP championship since 1972.
Few expected the Trojans to end that streak this season, after losing Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer to the NFL.
Leinart, who had never passed in college before this season, threw for a touchdown on his first pass, at Auburn. He helped make this offense even more dangerous than the team that won 11 games last season.
There were a few early struggles for Leinart, including three interceptions in a 34-31, triple-overtime loss to California on Sept. 27 that cost the Trojans a perfect season.
After coming back from an injury at halftime to lead the Trojans to a victory against Arizona State the following week, Leinart led USC to seven straight 40-point games to end the regular season.