USC 38, IOWA 17: Carson Palmer outplays Brad Banks in Orange Bowl.
By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 3, 2003
MIAMI -- Seconds after Southern Cal was awarded the Orange Bowl trophy, quarterback Carson Palmer reached into the glass bowl, grabbed an orange and sky-hooked it into the crowd.
It missed a teammate's outreached hand and caromed off an unsuspecting photographer. Palmer cringed for a second, then smiled, knowing it was one of only a few of his passes Thursday night that hadn't hit its mark.
If Palmer had any Heisman Trophy doubters, he and USC took care of that -- and No. 3 Iowa -- in convincing fashion with a 38-17 win at Pro Player Stadium.
"This is amazing, just to be a part of this team," said Palmer, who earned game MVP honors but deflected the credit to his teammates. "To come out and play as well as we did tonight against a team like this, it's amazing. I didn't have to play very well to win, and that says a lot about this team."
Iowa's Brad Banks, runner-up to Palmer for the Heisman, finished second again, though the difference between the two was more glaring Thursday. Palmer, who went 21 of 31 for 304 yards and two touchdowns, became only the fourth quarterback to top 300 yards passing in an Orange Bowl, while Banks didn't reach the 100-yard mark until the fourth quarter.
Never before had a Heisman winner defeated a runner-up in a bowl showdown.
After the first half ended tied at 10, Palmer gave USC its first lead with a pass to Tampa's Mike Williams. It was the first of four touchdowns in a row for the No. 5 Trojans (11-2), who pulled away from the Hawkeyes (11-2) for their eighth straight victory.
"We've taken it as far as we can take it this year," coach Pete Carroll said. "We're playing terrific football now, and I wish we could keep going. Who's up next week? We finish on a great note and head into next season with all the momentum we could ever want."
The game reversed a trend -- the Big Ten was 5-1 in bowls while the Pac-10 was 1-6.
The Trojans put the game away by running through one of college football's toughest rush defenses. Justin Fargas, a transfer from Michigan, broke open for a 50-yard touchdown in the third quarter, pushing him over 100 yards and giving the Trojans a 24-10 lead. On the next drive, Sultan McCullough found a hole on the right side for a 31-yard gain, scoring from 5 yards on the next play.
Palmer looked most like a Heisman winner on the opening drive of the third quarter, going 5-for-5 for 82 yards in taking the Trojans from their 20 to their first lead at 17-10. His last pass was an 18-yard touchdown to Williams, a 6-foot-5 receiver who tied an NCAA record for touchdowns by a freshman with his 14th of the season.
Earlier in the drive, the Plant graduate set the NCAA freshman record for receiving yardage, and he would later set the NCAA freshman mark for receptions.
Williams' touchdown was the first since the game's opening minutes, when the teams, which hadn't played since November, shook off the layoff with quick touchdowns. Iowa's C.J. Jones became the first player in the Orange Bowl's 69-year history to return the opening kickoff for a touchdown when went 100 yards down the left sideline.
Jones needed 17 seconds to score, then USC took less than two minutes to tie it. Palmer connected with Kareem Kelly for a 65-yard pass on the Trojans' first play, and Fargas scored on a 4-yard run four plays later.
Iowa self-destructed on the goal line in the final seconds of the half. Banks started on his 48 with 1:12 left and drove the Hawkeyes to the 1 with 10 seconds left. With one shot at a touchdown, Maurice Brown dropped a Banks pass in the end zone, and two false starts backed Iowa up. Nate Kaeding's 28-yard attempt was blocked by Bernard Riley to end the half.
Iowa's first drive faltered in similar fashion. Banks led the Hawkeyes to the 2, but the offense stalled. A false start backed Iowa up to the 7, and linebacker Matt Grootegoed sacked Banks for a 13-yard loss. The Hawkeyes settled for a 35-yard Kaeding field goal for a 10-7 lead.
"It was just a great ballclub we faced tonight," Banks said.
Iowa had six penalties before USC had its first and the Hawkeyes gave up 550 yards of offense, including 265 on the ground. The Trojans scored the first 28 points of the second half.
"We flat-out got outplayed in the second half, and that just isn't fun," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It's been a long time since we've been in one of these, but I hope all of our guys will walk with their heads high, knowing they've had a fantastic season."
Trojan fans shouted "We want Miami" after the game, but USC will be a player in next season's championship hunt. Palmer will move on to the NFL, but much of the defense will return, as will an emerging star in Williams, who would like to see a national title before he's done.
"That's the plan," said Williams, who had six catches for 99 yards. "When I decided to come here, I knew we had the people to do it. The national championship is where we want to be."