FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- LenDale White spent the run-up to the Orange Bowl -- a period that, to him and the rest of his Southern California teammates, must have seemed longer than the Mesozoic -- as USC's other back. The spare Trojan.
This was a USC team, we were all told, that was Matt Leinart, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, and the sensational running back Reggie Bush. Take Bush away, the thinking was, and it's just Leinart and a bunch of guys.
So how utterly satisfying must it be, do you think, that SC stomped the crimson out of Oklahoma in Tuesday's national championship game with a bunch of "guys" who were largely ignored in the reams and reams of pre-game hype?
How cool must it be for the entire team to show Oklahoma, and all the other USC doubters out there, that the Trojans are ... well, a team? In every sense of the word.
"That Oklahoma guy that thought the only guy we had on the team was Reggie?" said USC wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett, referring to the trash-talking OU defensive end, Larry Birdine (one tackle), "I guess he's kind of eating his words right now."
The Trojans won the national title Tuesday in an embarrassing 55-19 win over the Sooners because of guys like Jarrett, who had five catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. And because of wide receiver Steve Smith, who had seven catches for 113 yards and three touchdowns.
And because of tight end Dominique Byrd, who had three catches, including a spinning, acrobatic one-hand grab of a 33-yard touchdown pass.
And, of course, because of White, who had spent much of the season under the big shadow cast by the little scatback Bush.
White carried the ball 15 times against OU, gained 118 yards and punched in two touchdowns, outshining not only teammate Bush (six carries, 79 yards and 31 more yards in catches) but the even more trumpeted Oklahoma running back, Adrian Peterson (25 carries, 85 yards).
"It's so hilarious to see how they defend Reggie sometimes," White said after the game. "When you see Reggie take off, and four guys running with him, it's not hard to figure out what to do."
With Oklahoma's attention centered on Bush, White was free to run wild. And quarterback Leinart had a day that rivals some of the best bowl games for any quarterback. Ever. Anywhere.
Leinart completed 18 of his 35 passes for 332 yards and an Orange Bowl record five touchdowns. And all without a score or any consistent threat from Bush.
That may surprise some. But it doesn't surprise anyone at USC.
"It really felt this way when we talked as a team last night that this could happen in a big way," coach Pete Carroll said. "It was like we could have kept playing all night and had all that fun."
Byrd started the fun with his circus grab in the first. White reached over the goal line at the end of a six-yard run after that. Smith curled to the middle on a play called "Wide Stick Stem," for a five-yard TD, then ran the same play in the third quarter for a four-yard score. In between he made a beauty of a touchdown grab on a 33-yard post pattern.
Jarrett streaked down the left sideline, turned around OU safety Brodney Pool and pulled in a 54-yard touchdown pass. Smith ran in from eight yards out in the fourth.
And Oklahoma, the whole time, must have been wondering who these guys were.
"I was the other guy," White said with a laugh.
The Sooners know him now. They'll remember him, and the rest of this USC team, for a long time to come.