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Trojans Throwback: 2005 USC/Fresno State

In 2005 USC welcomed the Fresno State Bulldogs in a high scoring affair that featured a Trojans comeback and a video game like performance that is still talked about to this day.

Fresno State Bulldogs v USC Trojans Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

USC and Fresno State will open the 2019 season at the newly renovated L.A. Coliseum. This will be the fifth meeting between the two programs with USC leading the series 3-1. The Trojans’ lone loss to the Bulldogs came during the 1992 Freedom Bowl. That was the first time the two programs faced each other. The second meeting came on November 16th, 2005, where Fresno State made its first trip to Coliseum to face the No. 1 ranked Trojans.

A member of the WAC (Western Athletic Conference) at the time, The Fresno State Bulldogs came into the match up ranked No. 20 in the nation with a 8-1 record. Coached by Pat Hill, Fresno State adopted the motto and attitude of “Anybody, Anywhere, Anytime.” due to the program willingness to play the big-time programs. This wasn’t just anybody that the Bulldogs were facing. This was a USC team that many considered as one of the best of all time.

USC Trojans v Fresno State Bulldogs
USC and Fresno State only met once before their 2005 clash at the Coliseum. The 1992 Freedom Bowl saw the Bulldogs handedly defeat the Trojans 24-7.
Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

USC was riding a 32 game winning streak and was 10-0 coming into the game. The Trojans were led by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Matt Leinart and Heisman candidate Reggie Bush. USC has been challenged this season by Arizona State, Notre Dame, and Oregon, where it relied on second half rallies to win close games. They were also the defending back to back National Champions and were on a quest for their third straight championship. A night time match up in Los Angeles to most appeared to be just another small bump in the road for the Trojans. Or so many thought.

Fresno State scored the first touchdown of the game at the 9:25 mark of the first quarter, after Bulldogs wide receiver Jermaine Jamison recovered a fumble that popped into the air and into his waiting hands. Right after the Fresno State drive, Reggie Bush would begin his spectacular night that would set the College Football world on fire. Bush would break off a 65 yard run that would put the Trojans down into the Fresno State five yard line. The following play, LenDale White would punch it in, to tie the game up. From there, Fresno State would show that it wasn’t going to back down from the No. 1 team in the nation. Despite a couple of key rushes from Bush, USC had to settle for field goals while Fresno State struck with a couple of big plays from Bulldogs’ quarterback Paul Pinegar, including a 15 yard pas to Joe Fernandez to put Fresno State up two scores. By halftime USC found themselves trailing 21-13 following a field goal to trim the lead to six. Fresno State had all the confidence and momentum going for them, but as many seen before, USC and the second half went hand in hand.

The second half would provide more fireworks as Trojans’ running back Bush would put USC in position to score once again following a 35 yard rush. That would lead to a Leinart quarterback sneak to trim the Bulldogs lead at 21-20. More momentum built back up as Trojans’ cornerback Brandon Ting would pick off Pinegar during the first play of the Bulldogs drive. USC would then go on to score and take its first lead of the game after a 45 yard rush from Bush. The Trojans’ defense would force another turnover thanks to a Darnell Bing interception that would set up a Leinart to Steve Smith connection to give USC a 34-21 lead.

USC Trojans v Fresno State Bulldogs
Fresno State quarterback Paul Pinegar kept the Bulldogs in the game passing for 317 yards and 3 touchdowns, however the 4 interceptions in the second half would be the ultimate downfall.
Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

After that, fans thought the game was over right?

They must not have known a Pat Hill coached team that season. Fresno State would march right back down the field to trim the lead and get right back into the ball game at 28-34. USC would go three-and-out the following drive, however it would get the ball back after a Scott Ware interception. From there, lightning would strike late in the third quarter.

The next play Bush would break off one of the most iconic runs that continued to play on highlight reals for years to come. Bush would cut towards the home sideline before stopping right on the spot to avoid a Fresno State defender and picked up speed for a 50 yard touchdown run, giving USC a two score lead once again at 42-28.

Again game over right?

Fresno State would show the nation that it wasn’t going to go away that quickly. The Bulldogs would score an early fourth quarter touchdown after Pinegar connected with Fernandez once again, to bring the Bulldogs within six. During the ensuing kickoff, Fresno State forced a rare Bush fumble that gave the Bulldogs the ball back. The next play, Bulldogs’ running back Wendall Mathis broke an 18 yard run to put them back up.

The defending champs weren’t going to allow the Bulldogs to spoil the party as Bush would redeem himself with a couple of big plays to put USC in scoring position. The drive would end with a two yard White rushing touchdown to put the Trojans up for good. Another Fresno State touchdown would give the Trojans the ball back, however they would have to settle for a Mario Danelo field goal to push the lead to 50-42. USC would force another turnover thanks to another Bing interception to preserve the win. The Trojans winning streak grew to 33 games following the win while Fresno State’s ended seven games.

71st Annual Heisman Memorial Trophy Award Presentation
Reggie Bush’s 513 all purpose yards against Fresno State would go on to be the game that won him the Heisman Trophy that season.
Photo by Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

Bush would end the game with 513 all purpose yards. While it didn’t break an NCAA record in a single game, it was the most memorable performance that fans had seen in a long time. No single game performances have reached the statue that Bush gave that night. You can say this was the game that won Bush the Heisman weeks later.

Moving forward, USC would dismantle UCLA the next week to complete a 12-0 season and set up an epic clash with the Texas Longhorns in a historic Rose Bowl Game. USC would come up on the short end of another high scoring affair. Fresno State on the other hand dropped its next two games to Nevada and rival Louisiana Tech to finish the regular season at 8-4. The Bulldogs qualified for the Liberty Bowl where they would lose their third straight game to Tulsa to finish the season at 8-5.

Five years later USC was hit with sanctions that involve Bush. As a result the Trojans’ football program was forced to vacate wins from 2004-2005 which included the Fresno State thriller. Bush was forced to vacate his Heisman Trophy, while USC was forced to permanently disassociate themselves from him, which continues to stand to this day. Despite the game being vacated out of the record books, the 2005 game will always continue to be talked about due to one of the greatest performances we’ve seen from a single player.