No. 8 USC smothers, shuts out much-hyped Auburn
Posted: Saturday August 30, 2003 11:23PM; Updated: Sunday August 31, 2003 12:55AM
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -- Southern California used a smothering defense and ball control offense to turn a much-hyped matchup with sixth-ranked Auburn into an ugly mismatch.
The eighth-ranked Trojans -- in their first game without last season's Heisman Trophy winner, Carson Palmer -- looked less showy but every bit as dominating in beating the Tigers 23-0 Saturday night.
"We didn't do a lot of fancy things or anything like that," said USC coach Pete Carroll, whose team won eight straight to finish last season. "We just played ball."
Matt Leinart passed for 192 yards in his first start and the Trojans set up 17 points with three turnovers.
The Tigers hadn't been a preseason Top 10 team since 1995, but were shut out at Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first time since a 19-0 loss to Virginia in the 1998 opener. They never got past USC's 33-yard line and were outgained 315-164.
"We couldn't sustain any drives," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "When you turn it over three times against a team like that, you're not going to have much chance to win the ball game.
"There's no excuses, they just beat us up front."
The Trojans physically dominated on both sides of the ball.
They muzzled the Tigers' heralded tailbacks Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown, and harassed quarterback Jason Campbell into a fumble and an interception.
USC only allowed four of 13 opponents to rush for 100 yards last season and limited the Tigers to 43 yards on 36 carries.
The performance took the stress out of Leinart's starting debut.
"Our defense is by far the best in the country," said Leinart, a sophomore who didn't throw a pass as Palmer's backup last season.
He was 17-of-30 and threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams, making few mistakes in his starting debut and getting nice protection from his line. Williams had eight catches for 104 yards.
Hershel Dennis ran for 85 yards on 21 carries in his first start. His 14-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter sent a few thousand Auburn fans scurrying for the exits after watching the Tigers turn in a listless performance. Daniel Urquhart set up that score by knocking the ball loose from Campbell on the previous play.
Auburn was a popular pick to win the Southeastern Conference, but it was USC that looked more likely to live up to its preseason billing as the Pac-10 favorite.
The Tigers aren't ready to give up on their season yet, though.
"Our goal is to win the SEC," Auburn defensive end Reggie Torbor said. "This game has nothing to do with that. If we lose this one and win the rest, nobody will remember this game."
USC took a 13-0 lead when Ryan Killeen made a 42-yard field goal to cap the opening drive of the second half. Leinart hit wide-open tight end Dominique Byrd for a 42-yard gain and Dennis converted a fourth-and-1 on the drive.
Auburn's troubles started early.
Freshman Darnell Bing picked off Campbell on the third play of the game, giving USC the ball 20 yards from the end zone.
"It set the tone for the rest of the game," Bing said. "We used it as a motivator and never looked back."
Three plays later, Leinart found Williams in the end zone.
Killeen, who kicked three field goals, added a 28-yarder with 3:21 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers had just eight yards on their first three possessions, and weren't able to get their passing game going.
"We hoped to discourage them in the running game so that they would have to throw the football, and I know they would have loved to run it if they could," Carroll said.
Campbell was 12-of-26 for 121 yards and often was forced to tuck the ball and run when he wasn't being sacked. He was sacked six times for minus-46 yards and had 10 carries, mostly after getting forced out of the pocket.
"He didn't have a chance, he was running around for his life," Tuberville said. "We just couldn't get any rhythm going. You could just feel our offensive line didn't feel good about being able to block those guys."