When Southern California opens the season Saturday against Fresno State, one thing seems safe to assume: No one will have a day quite like Reggie Bush did the last time these schools met in a regular-season game.
That was the greatest performance of Bush’s career.
On November 19, 2005, he produced a whopping 513 all-purpose yards as the top-ranked Trojans stayed undefeated en route to a national championship game appearance with a 50-42 victory over No. 16 Fresno State under the lights at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles.
"I was just feeling it," said Bush, now a running back for the Detroit Lions who is entering his ninth NFL season. "They were feeding me the ball. It was one of those nights you don’t get to see too often.
"It’s fun to be a part of that and to accomplish that. Looking back on it, it was special. It was a very special night."
You name it, Bush did it.
He had 294 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 23 carries. He caught three passes for 68 yards. His one punt return went for 16 yards. And he also returned seven kicks for 135 yards.
The combined total of 513 yards is still a record for a Pac-12 Conference player, but it’s not the most in NCAA history. That record is held by former Utah State running back Emmett White, who amassed 578 all-purpose yards against New Mexico State in 2000.
The difference is that Bush did his damage with 34 touches compared to 46 by White. Bush averaged 15.1 yards per touch to White’s 12.6.
At the time, Southern California coach Pete Carroll, now the coach of the reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, called Bush’s performance "pure magic."
"Absolutely electric," Carroll said.
Bush credited his receivers, who "kept the corners off me," and his offensive line for opening up "some huge holes."
But it was No. 5, a junior at the time, who couldn’t be stopped. He used his world-class quickness to burst through holes and rip off big gains. He was seemingly breaking the ankles of Fresno State defenders who fell as he accelerated past them. His vision went to another level as he appeared to see things almost in slow motion as a contrast to his own breathtaking speed. He even fought through the trenches to get the tough yards near the goal line.
Anything and everything.
On a 50-yard touchdown run, Bush bolted up the middle, cut all the way to the left sideline, stopped when a defender appeared to have an angle to make the tackle and then cruised all the way back across the field again and into the end zone.
They were video-game moves. It was nearly flawless, the game of his life.
But there was one moment that nearly ruined everything. Fresno State had just scored and Bush reverted to his human side, fumbling the ensuing kickoff. So much for perfection. Fresno scored on the next play to take a 42-41 lead with 9:47 remaining.
"Everybody remembers me having a great game," Bush said. "The thing they don’t remember is that game went to the wire. We had to keep scoring points."
Bush and the Trojans did just that. The high-powered offense responded again, driving for the winning score to secure a 33rd straight victory.
This was the game that helped clinch the Heisman Trophy for Bush, even though he later had to forfeit the award when the NCAA ruled he had committed a violation by accepting impermissible benefits. The close call against Fresno also pushed the Trojans toward their berth in the title game, but they lost that game to Texas a few weeks later.
So it didn’t end so perfectly for Bush and his team. But there was that night late in the season when it all came together and he put on a display of versatility and athleticism that won’t be forgotten — especially by him. In a career of signature games, it remains his very best.