Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Bowl Recap: Rose redemption, fantastic Fiesta

There were two terrific bowl games played last evening and both had an indirect impact on the national championship picture.

USC finally snaps Rose Bowl curse, defeats Michigan 32-18
Will all the Michigan apologists/whiners please shut up now? The USC Trojans handed the favored Wolverines a Grandaddy of a beatdown and exorcised some demons by winning at the site of their last 2 painful losses.

The Trojans missed out on a chance at the BCS Championship Game after losing to rival UCLA 12-9 last month at the Rose Bowl, UCLA's home field. Last January the Trojans also went down in defeat at the storied site, which was hosting the championship game, to Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns, 41-38.

But on this glorious Southern California evening the team from across town treated the venue as their own thanks to a fierce defensive showing against the supposedly superior Wolverines and an awesome performance by wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett. The explosive junior from Jersey caught 11 balls for 205 yards and 2 touchdowns and kept the Michigan secondary on its heels the entire night. His gorgeous 62-yard touchdown pass from John David Booty (27-45, 391 yards, 4 TDs) made the score 25-11 early in the 4th quarter, opening up what had been a close game, and Booty's 7-yarder to Steve remember me, I'm pretty damn good, too? Smith (7 recs, 108 yds, 1TD) iced it five minutes later.

But as much as the "Grandaddy of Em All" was blessed with offense (the two teams combined for 760 total yards) it was the USC defense that made the difference in this one. The Trojans sacked Chad Henne (26-41, 309 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) six times, five in the first half alone when the score was 3-3, and Michigan RB Mike Hart (17 carries, 47 yards) couldn't get room to breathe; in fact run-dominant Michigan was held to an unbelievable 12 yards on the ground, due to the yardage lost on all the sacks.

The Trojans took care of business in the We Shoulda Been In Glendale Bowl and provided plenty of content for the inevitable firelloydcarr.com site. Now all the speculation is about whether Jarrett will head to the NFL or not, and if he doesn't the Trojans' return to the title game may be delayed by just one season.

A Fiesta Bowl Classic: Boise St. stuns Oklahoma, 43-42 in OT
Who woulda thunk it? The lightly-regarded Fiesta Bowl, featuring undefeated upstart Boise St. against Big 12 bad boys Oklahoma, would end up being the best bowl game in recent memory, probably dating back to the Miami/Ohio State championship classic in 2003.

Not only did the thriller feature three touchdowns in the final 1:26 of regulation but it also provided two seldom-used trick plays, both of which worked to a tee, a ballsy call by Boise coach Chris Petersen to go for the win, and was capped of by a marriage proposal on live TV. Now how the hell you gonna top that?

The Broncos were 12-0 but not one of the many teams griping about not getting a shot at the only other undefeated team in D-1, Ohio State. No, the boys from Boise were just happy to have cracked the BCS party, only the second team from a non-traditional BCS conference (the WAC)to do so (the other was Urban Meyer's Utah squad in 2004.)
So as long as they were there they thought they might as well go out and try and win the thing. Boise jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead and bulged it to 28-10 midway thru the 3rd quarter. The orange & blue-clad Bronco fans were in their glory while the Sooners looked shell shocked and embarrassed.

But as with any team coached by Bob Stoops the Sooners would not give up. Adrian Peterson returned from his broken collarbone to rush for 77 yards and 2 touchdowns and it was his score with 3 minutes to go in the 3rd that made it 28-17 and gave the Sooners hope. By the time Oklahoma QB Paul Thompson (19-32, 233 yards, 2TDs, 3INTs) found Quentin Chaney from 5 yards out with 1:26 to go in the 4th to tie it at 28 the Sooners and their fans had more than just hope- they had momentum and confidence that they could finish off the reeling Broncs.

Twenty four seconds later Marcus Walker intercepted Boise QB Jared Zabransky (19-29, 262 yards, 3TDs, 1INT) and the Sooners had an improbable 35-28 lead and Uncle Mo was now clearly garbed in red & white.

To steal from Lee Corso, "not so fast my friend, because thanks to a magical play the Broncos would live to fight for another few minutes.

Facing 4th and 18 from midfield with 20 seconds left Boise had to pull out all the stops. Zabrabsky completed a pass for 15 yards to Drisan James, who ran to the right side of the field then pitched the ball to Jerard Rabb running to the left side. The old "hook & ladder /lateral" play worked to a tee as Rabb raced untouched 35 yards for the score and the Broncos had miraculously tied the game at 35 with :07 seconds left.

But the fireworks were just beginning.

In overtime Peterson scored from 25 yards out on Oklahoma's first play and the Sooners quickly grabbed a 42-35 lead. The Broncos needed a bit more time to score, but when they did it was much more memorable.

Wide receiver Vinnie Peretta hit Derek Schouman for a 5-yard TD pass on 4th down and all the Broncos had to do was kick the extra point to force another extra frame.

Once again, not so fast my friend.

After the Sooners took a time out Zabransky & Co. lined up to go for two. This confused the Sooners, and Boise made things worse by faking like the play was a pass to the left of the end zone. But Zabransky masterfully hid the ball in his opposite hand and passed it off backwards to an uncovered Ian Johnson for a beautiful "Statue of Liberty" 2-point conversion and the shocking 43-42 win.

In the euphoric aftermath, as Boise fans revelled in the University of Phoenix Stadium and the Sooners' sat sunned in disbelief, Johnson, the sophomore who lead the NCAA in touchdown this season (25) staged a moment that put every crappy dating show in this "reality TV era" to shame. After a live interview following his game-winning run he called his Bronco cheerleader- girlfriend Chrissy Popadics over, then got down on one knee and proposed.

As she jumped into his arms and said "yes", the same thing might be said when asked if the 2007 Fiesta Bowl was the greatest bowl game ever.

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