On Oct. 1 Arizona State linebacker Robert James drew a richly deserved personal foul for driving the crown of his helmet into Leinart's chin, then pile-driving him into the turf. Leinart, whose injury was later diagnosed as a mild concussion, had a wobbly day at the office and did not throw a touchdown pass for only the second time in 30 games. With the Trojans trailing 21-3 at the half, Carroll calmly entrusted the game to Bush and fellow tailback LenDale White, who combined for 318 rushing yards after halftime. The Trojans outscored ASU in the second half 35-7.
So it has gone this season: the tailbacks, Bush in particular, coming up large when the Trojans need them most. In USC's 15-rounder with Fresno State on Nov. 19, a hard-fought 50-42 win, the junior from San Diego slashed his way to 513 all-purpose yards, all but locking up the Heisman in the bargain. He was similarly clutch at Notre Dame. With Leinart periodically befuddled by the schemes of the Irish, Bush was sensational--"the reincarnation of Marshall Faulk," as Weis described him--piling up 265 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. And yet, at the darkest moment of the season, Leinart was on his own.
The Bush Push was but the third in a series of surreal plays, the first of which had come with 1:32 left to play and the Streak on life support. Leinart faced a fourth-and-nine from his own 26. In a display of cool that recalled Joe Montana--who could be seen nervously pacing the Notre Dame sideline--Leinart looked over the defense and, remarkably, changed the play. (He used hand signals, the crowd of 80,795 having rendered audibles inaudible.) Leinart feathered a perfect pass into the arms of Dwayne Jarrett, whose 61-yard catch-and-run gave USC the ball on the Notre Dame 13.
Surreal Snap Number 2: On first-and-goal at the two, a scrambling Leinart was drilled shy of the goal line by middle linebacker Corey Mays, whose monstrous hit popped the pigskin from the quarterback's arms like a cork from a bottle of Mo�t. Like revelers in Times Square, the Domer faithful counted down the remaining seconds--"Three! Two! One!"--then poured onto the field. Their euphoria was fleeting. The ball had sailed backward, out-of-bounds. After a brief powwow, officials instructed that seven seconds be put back on the clock, setting the stage for....
Well, for what? Until his chat with Bush, Leinart still hadn't made up his mind. Sneak or spike, it made no difference to his hogs. Either way, explained left tackle Sam Baker, "we're coached to wedge it." He and Lutui would fire out and converge on a point, forming an upside-down V, a maneuver that in this case achieved, at best, a stalemate. Caroming off Lutui's ample backside, Leinart spun left and with one final lunge--abetted by that forbidden boost--broke the plane of the goal line. USC 34, Notre Dame 31. On the bench moments later, he broke down.
Leinart buried his face in his hands, his eyes welling with tears of joy and relief. "It was an emotional win," he said, slumped at his stall a half hour later. "I'm completely drained."
It's tough, pulling your team off the precipice. Leinart got by with a little help from his friend.