The Trojans' Twin Horses

A steady passer and a spectacular back, each making the other look good, have USC sitting pretty
December 06, 2004

USC QUARTERBACK Matt Leinart has passed to tailback Reggie Bush so often this season that Bush apparently felt it was time to toss something Leinart's way. "I'm throwing my support behind Matt for the Heisman," Bush said after the Trojans cruised to a 41-10 win over Notre Dame last Saturday. "There's no competition between the two of us. Matt deserves it more than anybody." Here was something that California's blue-state voters undoubtedly wished they'd heard a few weeks ago--a Bush concession speech.

Leinart may have separated himself not only from his teammate but also from the rest of the Heisman field with a near-flawless performance: 24 of 34 passing for 400 yards and five touchdowns. It was reminiscent of a similar late-season strafing of Notre Dame two years ago that locked up the Heisman for Carson Palmer, Leinart's predecessor.

Bush is content to be Leinart's running mate, helping him amass the kind of gaudy statistics--including 28 TD passes against only five interceptions--that Heisman voters notice. "It's almost unfair to look at my numbers," Leinart says, "because a lot of times I'm just throwing short to guys like Reggie and watching them stretch it." Leinart doesn't play nearly as minor a role as he makes it sound. He and Bush enhance one another's talents. Bush, who has the soft hands of a receiver, often turns ordinary passes into scintillating scores, and Leinart maximizes Bush's chances to do that by delivering the ball so accurately that Bush almost always catches it in full stride.

Case in point: a 69-yard pass play in the third quarter against Notre Dame. Leinart lofted the ball down the right sideline, and Bush, coming out of the backfield, caught it on the dead run. He faked out one wouldbe tackler and outran another on his way to the end zone. "Matt put that ball right on the money," Bush said. "That's the difference between a nice gain and a touchdown."

Although Bush, a sophomore, elevated himself into Heisman consideration with his big-play ability, he always considered himself a long-shot candidate compared with Leinart, a junior who may turn pro after the season. Leinart benefits from having been the Trojans' prime Heisman candidate heading into the season, and because the Trojans have so many dangerous backs and receivers, Bush doesn't get the ball often enough to compile Heisman-like numbers. He has 629 yards rushing and 405 receiving, but more important, opponents have to be wary of all his talents.

"I shouldn't be saying this because I might be playing against both of them again next year," said one Notre Dame player, "but even though Leinart's probably going to win the Heisman, Bush is the guy you worry about all week before the game."

Truth is, either one of the Trojans' Heisman candidates can cause an opponent to have sleepless nights, but in tandem they're a nightmare. --Phil Taylor

COLOR PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH LINE OF SUCCESSION Leinart (opposite) was USC's trophy player from season's start, while Bush has set himself up for next year. COLOR PHOTOJON SOOHOO/WIREIMAGE.COM [See leadin above]   [See caption above]

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