One of the nifty aspects of the game was to be the running duel between Bell and Michigan's All-America tailback, Rob Lytle. That evaporated in a hurry. Lytle, fast and difficult to stop, did well in the first half, but Bell was out of action before some fans were settled in their seats. The stars turned out to be Michigan Defensive End Dom Tedesco and Linebacker Calvin O'Neal, and Trojans White and Evans. Evans was named player of the game, the 17th Trojan so honored since 1923 and the ninth Trojan quarterback to win the award.
O. J. Simpson didn't dispute the selection of Evans, but he couldn't help gushing about White's future. "Me, Anthony Davis, Ricky—I think he may erase all our names, especially with Tatupu blocking for him next year, and you know USC's going to be bringing in some more big, strong linemen. He has great explosion, he sees everything. He's a darter, he's not a power runner or anything, but he has that explosion into the hole and that's what you've got to have."
On Michigan's first series. Leach fumbled on the USC 42. USC marched to the Michigan six but couldn't cross the goal. Glen Walker's 23-yard field-goal attempt was no good. Michigan scored first, in the second quarter, on a typical Wolverine drive: a pitchout to Lytle, a scramble by Leach, a line plunge, a pitchout, a Lytle dive from the one. USC Tackle Walt Underwood leaped high to block the extra-point kick and Michigan led 6-0.
USC came right back with an impressive march of its own, featuring White's running and a 30-yard pass play from Evans to Shelton Diggs. It came down to fourth and goal to go from the one and Robinson decided to try for the touchdown rather than a field goal. Evans, a good runner, faked to White, who vaulted high over a cluster of Michigan defenders. Then he raced untouched around left end for the score. Walker's kick was good and the Trojans led 7-6, a lead they took into the locker room at the half.
USC got its second touchdown in the fourth quarter, a 58-yard drive culminated by White's tough seven-yard run. Fullback Tatupu carried twice for 30 yards, and Evans, dodging pursuers, hit Randy Simmrin for a 27-yard pass completion. Walker's kick made it 14-6, USC.
Michigan mounted a desperate attack after the ensuing kickoff, but it died with a couple of questionable play calls by the coaching staff that will have fans second-guessing Schembechler for months. Two successful Leach passes moved the Wolverines from their own 33 to the USC 23. Two plays later it was third down, four yards to go on the Trojan 17, with 2:13 left, plenty of time. Michigan could have gone to its three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust plays, its pitchouts, its quarterback keepers—but it didn't. On third down Leach threw a hurried pass, out of bounds, over Stephenson's head. On fourth down he overthrew a well-covered Lytle. USC then ran out the clock to assure its 15th Rose Bowl triumph. And so for the seventh time in eight seasons the Big Ten had lost to the Pac-8 because it has yet to acknowledge and/or perfect the forward pass. At times USC had gone with five linebackers and only three deep backs, daring Michigan to pass, but Leach had tried only 12, completed just four.
"Relatively speaking, we took the run away from them," said USC Linebacker Coach Don Lindsey. "So now he's forced to pass. In the previous games he has thrown the football in relaxed situations. No discredit to Rick Leach at all. Gosh amighty, he is a great football player. He's a great leader, he's a great ball handler. Not a discredit to him—they don't throw the ball."
"I thought it was one of the great football games I've ever been involved in," said Robinson, who had just finished his 17th year as a coach. "Both sides, the men in the game, played absolutely great football....I think there were more collisions and more really physical play than any time since I've been in coaching."
"I think they deserved to win the game," said Schembechler, his air of confidence and command not shaken by his fourth bowl loss in four tries. "I think they're the best football team I've seen this year. I have no vote for the national championship or anything like that, but if I did I certainly would vote for USC."
Tell you a little secret, Bo. Playing Pitt would have been even worse.