7:40 PM ET, August 28, 2004
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) -- Reggie Bush came out of the backfield to give Southern California a new big-play receiver.
The tailback caught three long touchdown passes to help the top-ranked Trojans beat Virginia Tech 24-13 in a sloppy opener Saturday night in the Black Coaches Association Classic.
"He's a special player and he proved it tonight," USC quarterback Matt Leinart said. "He's real fast, he's got great hands and he can make defenses kind of look silly out there sometimes."
Bush caught five passes for 127 yards.
"Reggie deserves to get the ball as much as you can get it to him," USC coach Pete Carroll said.
Bryan Randall led the Hokies with his arm and legs, throwing for 153 yards and a score, and rushing for 82 yards. It was enough to make the defending champions work hard, but not nearly enough to pull the upset.
"I think there was a lot of people out there that didn't give us a chance," Randall said. "We proved them wrong."
The Trojans played their first game in two seasons without star receiver Mike Williams. USC found out Thursday that Williams would not be reinstated by the NCAA after his failed attempt to enter the NFL draft.
"The thing with Mike is over now," Leinart said. "He's still a part of us. We're still going to play the same way we know how no matter who we have."
The Trojans said they were prepared to be without the All-American Williams and would be OK with a group of talented but inexperienced receivers.
The results showed otherwise.
Breaking in a new group of starting wideouts, Leinart found few open targets in the first half, going 8-for-16 for 102 yards. And the Trojans' rebuilt offensive line was providing sketchy protection.
So the junior looked to Bush, and the explosive sophomore came through when the Trojans looked as if they were in big trouble -- trailing 10-7 late in the third quarter.
Bush lined up as a wide receiver, blew by Virginia Tech's best cornerback, Jimmy Williams, and cradled in a perfect over-the-shoulder throw from Leinart for a 53-yard touchdown with 1:55 left in the third.
Bush also opened the scoring by taking a middle screen 35 yards for a TD in the first quarter.
Otherwise, an offense that averaged 41 points and 447 yards last season struggled for most of three quarters against a Virginia Tech defense that is coming off its worst season in years.
Wide receivers Steve Smith, Dwayne Jarrett and Chris McFoy combined for eight catches and 87 yards.
Leinart picked it up in the second half and finished 19-for-29 for 272 yards, hitting 11 straight at one point. He finally found a wide receiver for long-gainer when he hit Smith for 46 yards in the fourth quarter.
On the next play, Bush sneaked out of the backfield and Leinart found him all alone for a 29-yard score that made it 21-13 with 5:35 left and finally allowed the outnumbered Trojans fans among the 91,665 at sold-out FedEx Field to relax a little.
Bush credited offensive coordinator Norm Chow for well-designed plays.
"He got me into some fortunate situations where we had mismatches," Bush said.
For a while, it looked as if the Hokies might get their first win against a No. 1 team on their seventh try.
As the Trojans failed to connect in the first half, Randall and the Hokies gained confidence and found a grove.
Randall's runs accounted for the bulk of the Hokies' early offense. The elusive senior had 87 yards rushing on six carries in the first quarter, which ended with USC up 7-3.
"I think things opened up for me tonight," Randall said.
In the second quarter, Randall burned the Trojans with his arm. He went 5-for-5 for 65 yards during a 10-play, 80-yard drive that culminated with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Josh Hyman. The 17½-point underdog Hokies, unranked entering the season for the first time since 1998, took a 10-7 lead into halftime.
The Hokies had things going their way in the second half, too, until an offensive pass interference call on Hyman wiped out a long gain and led to a punt.
"The momentum just switched right there," Randall said.
USC took advantage on the next possession, sending Bush deep for the lead.
Once given a lead to protect, the Trojans defense put the squeeze on Randall. The Hokies managed just a field goal in the second half and the Trojans caused a fumble by Randall with 2:01 left that set up a field goal and sealed a much-tougher than expected win.
"Nobody said that you have to be at your best in the first game," Carroll said.