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 so
persuasive that voters almost certainly will leave USC atop the
"I think we just won the national championship," jubilant USC
coach Pete Carroll said. "I think it's clear that we did
everything we needed to."
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
"He won a national championship, I'm sure of that," Michigan
coach Lloyd Carr said, referring to Carroll.
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.
Leinart, the game's MVP, shredded the nation's sixth-ranked pass
defense for 327 yards, and the Trojans (12-1) had a season-high
nine sacks and even blocked a field goal by Michigan (10-3).
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
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.
After the clock ran out, Carroll jumped around hugging players
as star-shaped confetti rained down. The Trojans then gathered in
the corner of the end zone to pay tribute to their band and fans.
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
Fired twice in the NFL for being too soft, Carroll's style was a
perfect fit in Los Angeles. After losing five of his first seven
games, the 52-year-old coach is 27-4.
He has combined his aggressive defensive style with offensive
coordinator Norm Chow's sophisticated passing game to create a
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
"I felt like we could have put more points on the board,"
Colbert said. "But the main thing is that we won the game. We are
the national champions. It's just awesome to be able to say that,
'We're number one."'
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.
All-American Kenechi Udeze had three sacks, and blitzing corner
Will Poole added two against an offensive line that had allowed
only 15 all year.
"We just couldn't handle their pressure up front," Carr said.
"We gave up too many sacks. That was probably the difference in
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 a 5-yard pass from Navarre to Tim
Massaquoi to cut it to 21-7. But Williams' pass to Leinart put the
"We've been working on it all week," Williams said. "It was a
big-time play by Matt."
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.
After Shaun Cody blocked a 47-yard field-goal attempt by Garrett
Rivas, USC needed just four plays for their first score -- a 25-yard
pass to Colbert.
Late in the second quarter, USC's defense capitalized on lucky
bounce when Navarre's pass hit off receiver Braylon Edwards' foot
and into the hands of Lofa Tatupu, who returned it 26 yards to the
3. Three plays later, Leinart hit White for a 6-yard score to make
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
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
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.