What is the more memorable USC Football play of the century: The Bush Push, 4th-and-9 or a new contender courtesy of Sam Darnold?
On Thursday, Bleacher Report released a ranking of the “Most Memorable College Football Plays Since 2000,” including the Bush Push at No. 7.
Which prompted a thought: Is the Bush Push really the most memorable USC Football play of this century?
Or is it the play which preceded it, 4th-and-9?
It’s a tough question to answer as both plays were required for USC to complete one of their greatest victories in the history of the Trojan-Irish rivalry.
As Bleacher Report’s ranking shows, from a national perspective, the Bush Push has lived on as one of those incredible sports moments, largely because of the claim that the push should have resulted in a penalty.
Take away the contrived controversy (no ref in their right mind would throw that flag, whether it was at the end of the game or the beginning), and Matt Leinart’s game-winning touchdown with three seconds left on the clock still holds up as an iconic moment.
It decided a knock-down-drag-out contest between No. 1 and No. 9. It capped a frenzied second half featuring back-and-forth scoring up to the final seconds.
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Still, from a USC perspective, 4th-and-9 lives on as an equal, if not greater, play.
After Brady Quinn gave the Irish a three-point lead with just over two minutes to play, the Trojans ended up in a 19-yard hole on third down after Leinart was sacked. Bush cut it to nine yards for fourth down. A do-or-die fourth down.
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Leinart called an audible and tossed it up for Dwayne Jarrett, who’d drawn one-on-one coverage.
Pete Arbogast’s call doesn’t necessarily translate dramatically well to text, but USC fans can recite it by heart: “Lines are set. Leinart changes at the line, gets the snap, drops to pass, throws, looking for Jarrett… It’s caught by Jarrett at the 40! –35, 30, 25, 20, tackled from behind at the15-yard line!”
The 61-yard completion kept the drive, and USC’s hopes, alive. Without it, the Bush Push couldn’t have happened.
On the other hand, without the Bush Push, 4th-and-9 wouldn’t carry the same weight either. Like Nickell Robey’s epic pick-six in the fourth quarter against Stanford in 2011, it would be remembered fondly but lose much of its glow upon remembering the outcome of the game.
And then there’s another consideration: Have both the Bush Push and 4th-and-9 been replaced as the most memorable play of the century at USC?
An argument could certainly be made that Sam Darnold’s 27-yard touchdown pass to Deontay Burnett, tying the 2017 Rose Bowl at 49 with 1:20 to go, is a contender for the title of most memorable USC play since 2000.
Darnold’s throw completed USC’s comeback from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
It was a touch of improvisational genius from both quarterback and receiver as Burnett changed his route to exploit the slightest gap in the Nittany Lion defense. Darnold recognized the adjustment and tossed a perfectly accurate pass over the middle that had fans, broadcasters and NFL GMs drooling.
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So which is it USC fans? Which play takes the cake as USC’s most memorable?