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Tuesday, January 4, 2005
Updated: January 5, 12:31 PM ET
Aerial attack overwhelms Sooners

Associated Press

MIAMI -- Dominique Byrd's sprawling one-handed touchdown catch opened the scoring for Southern California in spectacular fashion. And the Trojans just kept the highlights coming.

Their 55-19 victory over Oklahoma on Tuesday night in the Orange Bowl was one for the record books, with no shortage of marks being set in the rout that few expected to see in the national championship game.
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  • Byrd, though, said USC coach Pete Carroll indicated beforehand that such a result was possible.

    "Coach Carroll told us that if we believed in the Trojan way and the way we finish, it'll come easy," said Byrd, who hauled in a 33-yard touchdown catch to tie the game at 7 -- and start USC on its way to its second straight national title.

    Start with Matt Leinart, the game's MVP who threw a record five touchdown passes -- three going to sophomore Steve Smith, who became just the third receiver to catch that many in an Orange Bowl.

    Leinart finished with 332 yards -- the second-most by any quarterback in the bowl game's history, trailing only the 369 yards Tom Brady finished with for Michigan five years ago.

    "He's so poised in a game like this, just poised the whole time," offensive lineman Sam Baker said afterward, as confetti rained down on the field and with Leinart lobbing oranges to teammates. "He's always trying to keep us light and in a game like this you can get real tight, so it's great when he keeps all of us loose."

    The Trojans finished with the second-largest margin of victory in Orange Bowl history, scored more points than any Sooners team ever allowed in a bowl game -- and 15 more than Oklahoma yielded in its last four season-ending games combined.

    Smith and Dwyane Jarrett became just the second receiving duo to finish an Orange Bowl with more than 100 yards apiece; Jarrett had five catches for 115 yards, Smith seven for 113.

    Only Florida's Taylor Jacobs and Jabar Gaffney -- who combined for 289 yards in the Gators' victory three years ago -- ever teamed for more.

    "Steve really stepped up his game tonight," Leinart said. "Three touchdowns, he was amazing. ... I'm just so proud of the way he played -- and he's so young, it's scary."

    Celeb sightings
    When Oklahoma opened the scoring with a touchdown Tuesday night, fans sitting over the corner of one end zone immediately turned their backs to the field.

    No, they weren't USC supporters in disguise -- they just wanted to see Brad Pitt's reaction.

    Pitt, an Oklahoma native, sat in a suite on the stadium's second level and was among many celebrities at the Orange Bowl. His presence was quickly noticed by fans, many of whom pointed cameras or photo-capable cell phones in his direction for snapshots and screamed in valiant tries to get his attention.

    As usual in star-studded Miami, the celebs turned out in droves.

    Miami Heat center Shaquille O'Neal did the pregame coin-flip, Yankees teammates Derek Jeter and Gary Sheffield hobnobbed on the field along with hip-hop mogul Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, Miami Dolphins safety Sammy Knight drew cheers and catcalls when he entered wearing a USC sweatshirt (he's an alum), and actor Will Ferrell cheered on the USC sideline.

    Title history
    The game marked the 16th time in the last 50 years that the national championship was decided at the Orange Bowl.

    Oklahoma has now been in six title-deciding games in South Florida, losing twice. The Sooners beat Florida State for the 2000 championship, Penn State for the 1985 crown, Michigan for the 1975 title and Maryland to close the 1955 season. They lost to Miami after the 1987 season, then on Tuesday to USC.

    The Trojans had played in the Orange Bowl only once before, beating Iowa 38-17 two seasons ago.

    Honored soldiers
    Former prisoners of war Jessica Lynch and Shoshana Johnson were introduced before the game and were on the field for the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner," next to a giant flag unfurled for the occasion.

    Johnson, a former Army Specialist who was awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and the Prisoner of War Medal for her service in Iraq before being honorably discharged, was a cook for the 507th Maintenance Company when it was ambushed in March 2003.

    "How can you be from Texas and not like football," said Johnson, an El Paso native.

    She was shot in both ankles and captured with five other soldiers, including Lynch, who suffered two spinal fractures, nerve damage and a shattered right arm, right foot and left leg. Nine U.S. soldiers died in the attack.

    Lynch also appeared at last year's Gator Bowl, but confessed that she's not exactly a football aficionado. The West Virginia native saw her Mountaineers play once this season -- they lost.

    "I watched it, but I didn't understand it," said Lynch, who still walks with a cane.

    No problem
    USC celebrated Mike Williams' 21st birthday by winning another national title.

    To his chagrin, they did so without him.

    Losing the All-America receiver, who caught 176 passes and 30 touchdowns in two seasons with the Trojans, didn't slow USC's march to the championship.

    Instead, USC speeded the development of freshman Dwayne Jarrett -- who led the Trojans with 55 catches for 849 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, including one Tuesday night against the Sooners.

    "It's fun to think how it could have been -- but we wouldn't have won any more games," USC coach Pete Carroll said.

    Williams tried to turn pro after his sophomore season when a court ruled in favor of Maurice Clarett, saying the league did not have the right to exclude players until they were three years out of high school.

    The NFL appealed the decision and won, keeping Clarett, the former Ohio State star, and Williams out of last year's draft. Williams tried to return to USC but was denied by the NCAA, and eventually withdrew from school to focus on getting ready for April's draft -- where he's expected to be a high first-round pick.

    Through his representatives, Williams declined interview requests from The Associated Press.

    Notables
    JoJo, the 14-year-old pop star whose debut single "Leave (Get Out)" topped Billboard's singles sales chart last summer, performed the national anthem. Pop star Kelly Clarkson, country star Trace Adkins and singer Ashlee Simpson took the stage for the halftime show; Simpson, who made headlines with a botched lip-synching on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" in October. … Traveler VII, USC's equine mascot, is being shipped home by FedEx -- the Orange Bowl's title sponsor. It's just a coincidence, said Traveler's owner, Joanne Asman. … USC improved to 6-2-1 against the Sooners. … Brent East, 23, was driving Oklahoma's Sooner Schooner -- the covered wagon on the Sooners sideline -- for the final time, and didn't go out the way he planned. It was the first loss he'd been on-field for in his four years with the school's pep group, the Ruf/Necks.