In the previous game, a win at California, Carroll had seen the telltale signs of Bush pressing. He had 82 yards on 17 carries in the victory: a good day for most running backs but well below Bush’s standards.
Relax, Carroll told Bush.
Stay in the flow of the game. Do not get frustrated when you do not hit the home-run play with every touch of the football.
"He’s such an extraordinary competitor," Carroll said. "He believes he can do anything. That invincibility sometimes catches up to him. He didn’t have to try to do it all on every play."
This will go down as Carroll’s best speech of the season, and only one player heard it.
Bush responded to the meeting with Carroll with two dynamic games to complete the regular season. Bush’s performances gave him the final push needed to win the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the premier running back in college football.
In the final two games, Bush ran for 554 yards and four touchdowns on only 47 carries. He also caught three passes for 68 yards and had 164 yards on kick returns.
"Reggie’s been great for us all year," USC quarterback Matt Leinart said. "But in the last two games, he’s really stepped up his game when it matters the most. It’s been an honor to play with him."
The impressive double started against then-No. 16 Fresno State. It turned into the personal highlight reel of Reggie Bush. He totaled 513 all-purpose yards and lifted USC to a difficult 50-42 win.
"I’ve seen a lot of great running back since I’ve been here," Fresno defensive end Garrett McIntrye said. "But I’ve never seen anything like him."
Bush completed the double by dazzling the defense of cross-town rival UCLA. He had 228 yards and two touchdowns in the first half of the 66-19 victory against the then-No. 11 team in the country.
"Some of the stuff he’s doing is out of control," said UCLA running back Maurice Drew, who attended the Fresno game to watch Bush. "I do nothing but applaud. When he gets the ball, everyone is on their feet."
Carroll’s advice helped, Bush said. He admitted becoming frustrated during the Cal game. Bush has carried his own large expectations all season.
"It’s a matter of being patient," Bush said. "I’m human, and I can get frustrated. But it’s important for me to stay positive for my teammates."
Bush rushed for 1,658 yards, the third-highest total in Division I-A, on only 187 carries. His average of 8.87 yards per rush is more than two yards better than any other 1,000-yard runner at the I-A level. Teammate LenDale White is second at 6.66.
Since 2000, only one runner has averaged more than eight yards per carry over a full season: Brigham Young’s Luke Staley at 8.07 in 2001.
In the last 40 years, 20 running backs have won the Heisman Trophy as the top collegiate player. Only three of those runners averaged more than seven yards per carry: Nebraska’s Mike Rozier (1983) at 7.8, Oklahoma’s Billy Sims (1978) at 7.6 and Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders (1988) at 7.6.
Bush also led Division I-A in all-purpose yards – rushes, receptions and returns – with 217.58 per game. That breaks down to 10.08 yards every time Bush touched the ball. Since 2000, no 1,000-yard rusher has averaged more than 8.75 yards per touch.
"It’s been a dream season," Bush said. "It didn’t just start last week or two or three weeks ago. It started last spring and summer, when we had an idea of what we could do. So far, we’ve been able to do it."
According to Leinart, when Bush runs "it doesn’t matter if there’s a hole." His style is a dazzling mixture of speed, agility and strength. He goes from zero to top speed in a blink.
"He can pull out of a lot of things, reverse his field and just go," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "He hits seams at 100 miles an hour. He’ll run full-speed sideways, put his foot in the ground and bang, hit a seam."
At that chilling moment for a defender, the race is on. Reggie Bush won most of those contests this season.
© 2005, The Dallas Morning News.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.