That would have been really cool -- Last night in the Rose Bowl, USC simply couldn't stop the running of Texas quarterback Vince Young, who averaged 10 yards per carry without any really long runs. The defensive player they assigned as the "spy" who was supposed to mirror whatever Young did on the field simply was not as good an athlete. In fact, in the second quarter, after Young broke the spy's tackle to rush for the first of his three touchdowns, we saw a frustrated USC coach Pete Carroll slap the poor spy's upside the helmet.
Now, in basketball, some of the most memorable moments come when one superstar is running amok offensively, and the other team assigns their superstar to guard him, even though they don't match up in terms of height. For example, in the 1979 NCAA regional final, Indiana State's Larry Bird was scoring at will over Arkansas' forwards and centers, until with 10 minutes to go, Arkansas put their best athlete, future NBA Defensive Player of the Year Sidney Moncrief on Bird even though Bird was a half foot taller. Moncrief shut Bird down. Indiana St. only won, setting up their famous encounter in the Final with Magic Johnson's Michigan St. because on the last play, one of Bird's teammates desperately drove the lane hoping to dump the ball off to Bird for the game-winning shot. But with Moncrief all over Bird, the ball-handler couldn't pass, got trapped in the air, and tossed up a prayer left-handed, which rattled around and somehow went in.
I've only seen this happen once in football since they went to separate offensive and defensive squads in the 1960s. It was late in the season in the late 1970s when an underdog team (perhaps SMU?) went up against highly ranked Arkansas, which had finished #2 in the country the year before. The underdog's quarterback was the classic small option quarterback, about 5-8 and 165, with not much arm, but a gutty runner and fa ine all around athlete, who had started for years on crummy teams. In what was the last game of his college career and likely his last football game ever, since he was too small for the pros, the underdog quarterback had the game of his life, throwing for four touchdowns and giving his team a 35-31 lead. But with two minutes left, mighty Arkansas' offense started rolling down the field. The quarterback begged his coach to be put in at free safety. The coach agreed, and the QB saved the game in the last minute by intercepting an Arkansas pass in the end zone.
So, what about the Rose Bowl? Did USC have anybody who was a comparable athlete to Vince Young that they could have put into the spy position on defense during Texas's final game-winning drive? Yes, unlike every other team in the country, USC did have somebody with equal or greater speed and reflexes, namely, the man who beat Young out for the Heisman, Reggie Bush. Pete Carroll had a month to prepare for Young, and came up with nothing. He could have used that time to drill Bush in playing defense.
Now that would have been a matchup!