By Brandon Judd
While the Republican political campaign has its Bush/Cheney combination, college football has its own Heisman Trophy running mates: Bush/Leinart.
USC quarterback Matt Leinart, a Heisman Trophy candidate, and Trojan running back Reggie Bush led an offensive attack that racked up 527 total yards for No. 1 USC in a 42-10 victory over BYU at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday.
Bush amassed 211 all-purpose yards, including 124 on the ground in his first career 100-yard rushing game. Leinart, meanwhile, completed 22-of-35 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
“He”s [Leinart] just making yards and making first downs,” USC head coach Pete Carroll said. “Couple that with his demand of the offense and his efficiency, and he”s a terrific quarterback to have on our team.”
The game didn”t start with an offensive bang, however. After one quarter, both teams had failed to put any points on the board. BYU (1-2) struck first, putting together a 10 play, 48-yard drive capped by a 46-yard field goal by Matt Payne at the 10:30 mark of the second quarter.
That lead would quickly turn into a deficit for the Cougars as the Trojans strung together a two-minute drive that ended when Bush took a Leinart pass 22 yards for a touchdown. From there, USC (3-0) would never trail again.
Bush added a 66-yard touchdown run minutes later, and Dwayne Jarrett caught a 15-yard TD grab to extend the Trojans” lead to 21-3 at the half.
Bush said the long touchdown run was what the USC offense needed to get going.
“That long run just gave us that extra burst that we needed,” he said. “And it helped us in the long run.”
The Cougar defense set up the offense with a chance to get back in the game after stopping the Trojans” first drive in the third quarter, which ended with a missed field goal. On the next play, BYU quarterback John Beck hit wideout Todd Watkins on a 69-yard touchdown strike.
“It”s a matter of getting the right match-up and making the play when it happens,” Watkins said.
The quick score would prove costly, however. Because the drive only took 11 seconds, BYU”s defense was forced back out onto the field while still trying to recover from the previous drive. As the game wore on, the defense wore down.
When Leinart scored his first career rushing touchdown in the first minute of the fourth quarter, the game was all but over. USC added two more touchdowns to account for the final tally.
“You can see why they are the No.1 team in the country,” BYU head coach Gary Crowton said. “They had a lot of skill guys that can make plays. They had so much team speed that it”s hard to make big plays.”
For the game, the Trojans rushed for 291 yards on 50 attempts, and they ran 85 offensive plays to BYU”s 58. The time of possession was vastly in favor of USC as well, with the Trojans holding onto the ball for over 13 minutes more than the Cougars.
Carroll credited the offensive line for getting the Trojan running game on track against the Cougars, who came into the game as the seventh-ranked squad defensively against the run.
“I loved the way the offensive line played,” he said. “We really thought we were going to be able to run the football tonight. We talked about a lot of other stuff coming in, but we really felt like we were going to get this done.”
These factors led to BYU”s defense tiring at the end of the game. Despite this, Crowton said he was pleased with how the defense stood up to the challenge of facing the top-ranked team in the nation.
“I thought we played really well at times [defensively],” he said. “When we play a team with all those weapons, it”s difficult to maintain that type of energy all the way through a long game like that. You could see that they just wore out in the end.”
The defense received a much-needed break when Jon Burbidge registered the Cougars” first interception of the season. But the BYU offense had its own troubles with turnovers, giving up the ball four times on three interceptions and a fumble.
While the offense scored just as many points as they did last week against Stanford, Beck said the offense was more focused and ready for this game.
“We never gave up,” he said. “And I know the score doesn”t show it because it was a pretty big deficit, but nobody quit working. Nobody quit fighting. We”ve just got to learn from it now.”
Crowton said it was good to have Beck back after missing most of the game against Stanford with a shoulder injury.
“It was nice to have John Beck play the whole game,” he said. “I saw him improve. I saw him a little nervous at times. It will teach him to improve and develop.”
Beck finished the night 18-of-34 for 194 yards and one touchdown pass. He also threw three picks.
“Our team was focused this week,” Beck said. “Our team was fired up this week. We prepared correctly, and we did everything right. Just come game time, we”ve got to execute a little better. And that”s speaking more on the offensive side of the ball. To beat a team like that, we”ve just got to score more points.”
COUGAR TRACKS: Watkins” 69-yard touchdown catch was the longest pass play for BYU in the Crowton era. It was also the longest scoring play for the Cougars since Bret Engemann hit David Christensen for a 50-yard touchdown pass in 2002. … The Cougars have scored first in all three of their games this season. In addition to Payne”s field goal against the Trojans, Fahu Tahi scored in the first quarter on short runs in both the Notre Dame and Stanford games. … Leinart”s interception in the first quarter was his first in 111 attempts. … Payne nailed a 79-yard punt in the third quarter, just one yard short of the Cougar record, held by Lee Johnson. … Captains for BYU for the USC game were Beck, Brady Poppinga, Aaron Francisco and Payne.