Lorenzo White, twice an All-American and the greatest running back in Michigan State history, wasn't even on the field when the game was tied and the Rose Bowl was on the line.
After carrying the ball 35 times in the first 3 1/2 quarters, White was on the sideline watching as Blake Ezor carried the ball 6 straight times to set up Michigan State's winning field goal in its 20-17 win Friday over USC.
It was the way Coach George Perles planned it and, as far as White was concerned, everything worked out fine.
"Well, we won it and, over a period of four years I was at Michigan State, it culminated everything I had worked for," White said seconds after hugging Ezor in the middle of the field as the 95-member Spartan team celebrated the first Big Ten win in seven years.
Perles explained his rationale in using Ezor, a junior from Las Vegas, in the final crucial moments.
"All day long, they'd been looking at Lorenzo, trying to stop him from cutting back against the grain," the coach said. "Then we send Blake (Ezor) in, and he's a ripper. He goes straight at them, and it presents a totally different problem to the defense."
White admitted that he was tired from the pounding he had received, but he said he never asked Perles to take him out.
"I felt I was wearing down because I didn't have as much work after we got out here as my teammates because I had to make more appearances as the All-American and all that," White said. "People kept talking about how my not getting the Heisman might motivate me, but I didn't need that for motivation. I'm a team player first, and it didn't matter to me if I wasn't in the game as long as we won. I was inspired to play well as a tribute to Michigan State and what it's done for me."
Perles said he had planned to put White back in the game, but in the confusion it never happened.
"I had my arm around Lorenzo, talking to him after I pulled him and I was going to send him back, but in the chaos after we recovered the fumble, I lost him," Perles said.
So Ezor went back in and carried the ball three more times, coming within inches of giving Michigan State the first down it needed to run out the clock.
"We've used Lorenzo and Blake that way before and they make a great one-two punch the way they complement each other," Perles said.
Thanks to a big first half, White gained 113 yards--2 more than he had in the season opener when Michigan State beat USC, 27-13. Ezor had only 27 yards in 11 carries, but they helped move the ball to the 18-yard-line, and John Langeloh kicked the winning field goal.
The game, Perles pointed out, turned on exactly what he had predicted--turnovers. USC had five, Michigan State had none.
Michigan State intercepted four passes and recovered one fumble. John Miller picked off two passes to share the Rose Bowl record with nine other players.
Percy Snow, a sophomore middle linebacker from Canton, Ohio, became the first defensive player to be named player of the game since Jack Del Rio of USC in 1985 and only the third since 1968.
Snow was credited with 17 tackles, more than twice as many as any other Spartan defender.
"I knew we had to make a couple of big plays after they caught us (at 17-17)," he said. "(Rodney) Peete was tougher to contain that we'd figured. He was faster than we expected and has great ability to change the direction of a play. I feel we didn't do was well against him as we should, but as long as we won the game, that's OK."
Perles said there was more to Snow's performance than the statistic of 17 tackles.
"He kind of jars people when he hits them, and along toward the end of the game it takes its toll. I'm glad I've got him back for two more years."