Rose Bowl: Trojans Dominate in Statement Win
PASADENA, Calif. -- Most people thought the Rose Bowl would be a blowout. Most people were right.
Save a stretch in the third quarter when Illinois' offense woke up, USC dominated the entire game en route to a 49-17 win to secure its second consecutive dominant Rose Bowl win. While USC tied a Rose Bowl record with 49 points and set a record with 633 yards of total offense, the Trojan defense set the tone early in the game.
"I'm so fired up about the way we played against such a terrific offense that plays that scheme of offense," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "They might have given us too much time to prepare."
Illinois never had a chance in the first half, compiling just 79 yards of offense and allowing USC to secure a 21-3 lead. After USC forced a punt on the first possession, star linebacker Rey Maualuga made the first of many big defensive plays with an interception at midfield that set up the Trojan offense for its second touchdown in as many possesions.
By the end of the night, Maualuga had tallied five tackles, a sack and three tackles in the backfield. His efforts earned him defensive player of the game honors.
Quarterback John David Booty earned offensive honors with a performance that secures his legacy at USC after a second consecutive dominant Rose Bowl.
"It was incredible," Booty said of his run with the Trojans. "These last five years were the best of my life."
He finished with 255 yards and three touchdowns on 25-of-37 passing. Booty's second touchdown earned a place in the record books, surpassing Washington State's Mark Brunell for the most passing touchdowns in Rose Bowl history. He finished with seven total, two better than Brunell.
While it looked like USC would run away with it by halftime, Illinois actually threatened in an action-packed third quarter that saw 470 yards of combined offense. Illinois stole momentum when Rashard Mendenhall exploded for a 79-yard touchdown run and took a swing pass 55 yards on the next drive to set the Illini up in the red zone trailing 21-10.
But then came the turning point of the game. With the Illini fans ready to explode and a chance to put serious pressure on USC, Jacob Willis fumbled the ball inside the 10-yard line thanks to a ball-hawking strip from linebacker Kaluka Maiava.
"Those are my favorite plays," Carroll said. "The other team has the ball and all of the sudden you take it away."
Joe McKnight then went on to make one of his many game-breaking plays with a 65-yard run to set up a touchdown that gave USC a 28-10 lead, essentially adding up to a 14-point swing.
From then on, it was all over. McKnight continued to dominate and should have earned offensive player of the game honors rather than the sentimental choice of Booty, a senior. He tallied 127 rushing yards and a touchdown on just 10 carries and 45 yards on six receptions. He also made several plays on special teams in a performance that was reminiscent of Reggie Bush. The freshman has certainly earned a starring role on future USC teams.
"You've just got to be excited about Joe," Carroll said. "This is what we thought he could become. He's on the national scene. He's the real deal."
For Illinois, it's a disappointing end to an otherwise thrilling season. Expected by most to win three or four games, the Illini improved by seven games from last season and ended a bowl drought that dated to 2001.
"We thought we were ready to play," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "You have to play to the best of your ability and we didn't do that."
For the BCS, it continues to raise questions. Many people thought Illinois didn't belong on a BCS field against a team like USC. They didn't. There was a strong contingent that believes USC is the best team in the country and deserves to play for a national title. Nothing from today's game argues against that. The Trojans played strong defense and rolled up 633 yards of offense against a quality Illinois team.
But Carroll wouldn't bite when asked about it after the game.
"The last thing I want to do is sit here and lobby," Carroll said. "But would we like to be playing right now? You bet we would."