While 2004 Heisman winner Matt Leinart may have enjoyed a reputation as the better passer going into the game, Young was far and away the more effective leader of the two. This was the guy who in August '05, along with junior tailback Selvin Young, studied videotape of preseason practices and the next day got in the face of any teammate who hadn't been pulling his weight. Vince is also the guy who in the huddle at Missouri in October, with the Longhorns facing third-and-30 at their 33 in a 21-13 game, told his linemen, "All I need is enough time to make three or four sandwiches." (After biding his time in the pocket for a while, Young scrambled 34 yards for a first down.) Cracking a joke, or inspiring, cajoling and bullying teammates comes easily. "It's pretty much my calling," he explained. "You accept [that calling], or you get smacked in the face by the Man Upstairs."
While USC was uniformly respectful of the Longhorns in the run-up to the Rose Bowl, some Trojans had been annoyed by the bravado emanating from Austin. For those who weren't, the USC coaches left clippings of stories containing the remarks on a table in the lounge of the football office, including a New York Post article whose headline was a Young quote: WE'LL BEAT USC. Young had turned in a particularly memorable performance at a Dec. 5 press conference, first lobbying for the Heisman, then announcing that should he fail to win it, he would be motivated to "show the world they made the wrong decision." Asked if he would be intimidated by USC, Young laughed, then replied, "Intimidated by what?" A moment later he noted that the Trojans "haven't seen the different guys on our team who are gangster." So compelling did Carroll find these comments that he arranged for snippets from the press conference to be shown in a team meeting.
Most USC players were perplexed rather than angered by the gangster remark. If they had known him better, they would have realized that it was just Vince being Vince—following his calling, reminding his teammates that they had nothing to fear, that they belonged in the national championship game. After the game, Carroll said that he had never coached against a player as totally commanding as Young had been. "He probably made us miss a dozen tackles tonight," Carroll said. In truth, that estimate seemed low by at least a dozen.
SAVE FOR A SPECTACULAR 26-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run on which Bush dived into the end zone, he took a backseat to LenDale White, whose thunderous inside runs, coupled with Leinart's precision passing, got the Trojans back into the game. In the second half USC ran off 28 points and never punted. But on fourth-and-one at the Texas 45 with 2:13 left, Carroll opted to go for it. Gain one yard, win the game. "We just blitzed everyone," senior safety Michael Huff, who helped stuff White inches shy, said later. Young would have one final chance.
After he moved the Longhorns 48 yards in nine plays, the 2005 college football season came down to a single snap. Out of the shotgun Young looked to pass. "I went all the way through my progression," he recalled later, "but there was nobody open." Linebacker Collin Ashton and corner Josh Pinkard blitzed, but they were picked up by the Texas front, which didn't allow a sack all night. "The defensive lineman was giving me the edge"—that was Frostee Rucker, who dived vainly at Young's ankles—"so I took it down."
Young took the ball down, then he took USC down.
Leaving the press conference as a losing coach for the first time since Sept. 27, 2003, Carroll smiled and asked, "What are you gonna do?"
Disappearing down the corridor, he flashed USC's two-fingered salute. It is intended to symbolize V, for victory. On this night the V stood for something else.