Thursday, January 05, 2006

Forever Young

I wonder how many newspapers will have the above as their headline? Probably a few. Count me among those absolutely dazzled by Vince Young's otherworldly performance in the Rose Bowl. I'm sure quite a few of those Heisman voters would change their votes after tonight's game, which left no doubt in my mind that Young is the best player in the country. I'd only seen Young against Ohio State, and was not impressed by his passing ability. A lot has changed in four months, as Young completed 30 of 40 passes for 267 yards, only made one bad pass all night, and didn't turn over the ball. It took me a while to get accustomed to his effortless sidearm sling, which initially make his passes look like there isn't a lot of velocity on them. By the time Texas took the lead in the second quarter, I realized that Young was actually throwing lasers and I should not let my eyes deceive me.

Young's legs are what makes him such an effective player, but the fact that he has become such a smart quarterback makes him a singular talent--yes, even more so than Reggie Bush. Bush wasn't very impressive in this game. There were only 3 plays where he had any running room. One of them ended in his ill-advised lateral attempt, one was a touchdown, and the other came on the penultimate play of the game. Those other 15 touches or so showed me nothing phenomenal. Granted, on any other team, Bush would have gotten 20+ carries, but when you have a power back as good as LenDale White, you have to split the carries. While Bush is clearly better in the open field, White is the better running back as far as recognizing holes and finishing runs. White will make an NFL team very happy, while I think Bush will fall somewhere between Brian Westbrook and Marshall Faulk. Given his performance tonight, I'm leaning toward the Westbrook end of the spectrum. Dangerous, but not dominant.

Bush's fumble clearly was a huge factor in the game, but Pete Carroll made some very poor decisions as well. Early in the first quarter, USC faced a 4th and 1 on the Texas 18. I have always advocated taking points early, but Carroll gambled and went for the first. If USC were on the Texas 1 or 2 yard line, I would have agreed with the decision. But getting a first down here doesn't guarantee a touchdown by any means. In that situation, 3 points is more sure than 6, even with a mediocre kicker. One look at the final margin tells you exactly why you should almost always take the 3 points early in the game.

Carroll's second bad decision was to go for it on 4th down with 2:24 remaining in the game. There hasn't been too much criticism of his move, with most of the pundits praising him for "going for the win". But much like the earlier play wouldn't have guaranteed the touchdown, this play would not guarantee the victory, as Texas still had 2 time outs left. Yes, it would have been much much tougher for Texas to have won if USC had converted the 4th down, but wouldn't it also have been tougher on them to start from their own 20 yard line? Or perhaps even farther back had USC gotten off a good punt? I say yes. Texas got the ball back at their own 44 yard line, and it took them 1:50 to drive those 56 yards. The math says if USC had forced Texas to go about 30 more yards (which would have been a likely outcome of a punt), Texas would have needed about a minute more to score. Texas only had 19 seconds to spare at the end of the game. Obviously, Texas would have been capable of going 85 yards in the same 1:50, but the odds would have been much longer. The one thing that Vince Young didn't do was complete a long pass--the Texas passing game was based entirely on mid-range underneath routes to the tight end and outs and curls to the wideouts. Punting the ball would have forced Young to do something he hadn't done all game, which was complete a pass of 30 or so yards. When it comes down to it, Pete Carroll decided that it was worth risking 3 points in the first quarter and 30 yards in the fourth quarter. Both times, USC lost the things they risked, and they ended up being the margin of defeat.

I was raised as an Ohio State Buckeye fan, so my heart will probably always consider the 2003 Fiesta Bowl as the top bowl game. My head knows, however, that this game was better because of the incredible players involved. Vince Young and Matt Leinart are 2 of the top 5 quarterbacks ever to play, and Bush and White are probably in the top 10 as running backs. The 2003 game was a Cinderella story, but the 2006 Rose Bowl was a game that actually exceeded the ridiculous hype heaped upon it, thanks to the greatest clutch performance in college football history.

My only hope is that the NFL playoffs provide half the drama. Hopefully I will put up some playoff preview capsules tomorrow.


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