College Football
Steve Sarkisian laments over 'regrettable' playcall from 2006 Rose Bowl
College Football

Steve Sarkisian laments over 'regrettable' playcall from 2006 Rose Bowl

Published Jun. 18, 2024 4:12 p.m. ET

Well before he led Texas to the College Football Playoff in 2023, Steve Sarkisian was known in the college football coaching ranks for his remarkable success as an offensive coordinator. But even the best have moments they'd like to take back. 

In the latest episode of "Big Noon Conversations," Joel Klatt asked Sarkisian what the most regrettable playcall of his career was. He had to ponder for a brief moment.

[Read more: Steve Sarkisian explains how he's created a 'culture of vulnerability' at Texas]

"Oh my gosh, let me think about this," Sarkisian initially said.


Sarkisian didn't ponder for too long, though.

"Well, yeah, I know exactly what it was: Fourth-and-2, USC playing Texas in the national championship game," Sarkisian said.

Nearly 15 years to the day that he became Texas' head coach, Sarkisian was coaching against the Longhorns in the 2006 Rose Bowl as USC's quarterbacks coach. Holding a 38-33 lead, the Trojans were just 2:13 away from becoming the first team in nearly 70 years to three-peat as national champions.

USC needed to pick up 2 yards on a fourth-and-2 from Texas' 44-yard line. Instead of going to that year's Heisman Trophy winner, Reggie Bush, Sarkisian opted to give the ball to running back LenDale White. 

White wasn't able to power past Texas' front, getting stuffed just in front of the first-down marker. A measurement confirmed that White failed to get the first down.

Texas' fourth-down stop preceded one of the most iconic moments in college football history. On the ensuing Longhorns' drive, Vince Young led Texas down the field, running in an 8-yard score on fourth-and-5, which helped put Texas up, 41-38, with 19 seconds remaining.

USC wasn't able to get the ball past midfield on the final possession, ending its dreams of a three-peat. It also caused many to question why White got the ball instead of Bush with the opportunity to seal the win with over two minutes left.

When Sarkisian named that as his most regrettable playcall, Klatt was a bit surprised. 

"You didn't like that call?" Klatt said. "You ran power."

"We ran power, and we had been running it all game," Sarkisian said.

"I think you averaged 12 yards per carry on that specific play, with LenDale White," Klatt said.

In addition to that stat, there were multiple reasons why it was understandable for Sarkisian to go to White in that instance. He served as USC's power back all year long, rushing for 1,302 yards on 6.6 yards per carry with 24 touchdowns. He had rushed for 123 yards on 6.5 yards per carry before the fourth-down run. In fact, he actually rushed for a five-yard gain on the previous play, though he did fumble the ball.

Even though the process of giving the ball to White might have been sound, that ultimately doesn't matter to Sarkisian.

"Here's my thing about playcalling: Playcalls are good when they work, they're terrible when the play doesn't work," Sarkisian said. "That's the history of playcalling. … That play, I'll never forget. It's probably one of the reasons why I'll never forget that. I want a million playcalls back."

Obviously, that moment didn't set Sarkisian's career back. He later became the head coach at Washington and USC. Following his ouster at USC, he worked as the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons before becoming an offensive coordinator again at the college level for Alabama.

Now, Sarkisian's seemingly one of the few head coaches who still calls plays in the sport.

"I think it's sustainable," Sarkisian said of calling plays while handling the duties of being a college head coach. "I think the thing for me, and I can't speak for everybody else, you try to hire really good people as best you can and people who are really competent and excel at what they do. Then, you try to get them to understand the way we think, the way I think as the head coach, so that they can make some of the day-to-day operational decisions on different things."

Steve Sarkisian discusses how coaching under Nick Saban and Pete Carroll impacted his career

Texas' offense ranked ninth in the nation in yards last season en route to a 12-2 year. Sarkisian's favorite playcall of his career actually came in Texas' 49-21 win over Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship Game.

"I was sitting with Coach [A.J.] Milwee, our quarterback coach, the night before the game. I said 'Hey, the first time we get third-and-2, third-and-3, I'm gonna go with the odds that we're gonna get man coverage and we call the double-reverse pass and hit [Ja'Tavion] Sanders wide-open for a touchdown.' I said, 'That's going to be the call. I don't care if we're on our own 10 or if we're going in, that's the call.' 

"Sure enough, it came up in the game and our guys hit it. We hit [Sanders] and like all our kids know what's happening. So when we called it and for it to hit the way that it hit, it was a pretty special deal."


Get more from College Football Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more