Shockingly for the Tigers, that group that featured four returning starters was dominated for four quarters by Southern Cal's quick and athletic defensive front and linebackers. The result was a humbling 23-0 homefield loss for the Tigers that stunned a capacity crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium that was expecting to see big things from the Auburn running game.
"They had a great defense," said Hugh Nall, who had the unfortunate duty after the game of having to talk about his first outing as an offensive coordinator--a total washout--while also contemplating what happened to his veteran offensive line he coaches. "I tried to tell people all week they had the best defensive front we have ever seen," Nall said. "They were a lot better than they were last year...They did a great job."
The Auburn defense didn't play a great game, but hung in most of the evening despite the Tiger offense being a no-show. The Tigers managed just 11 first downs, 63 net rushing yards on 36 attempts and Jason Campbell was shaky as a passer, hitting just 12-26 for 121 yards with one interception. The lack of offensive production certainly wasn't all Campbell's fault. He had receivers drop passes and as the game progressed and the Trojans got AU's running attack under control, Campbell was on the run as the visitors attacked the Tiger quarterback.
"We are going to go back to practice next week and keep our heads up and keep moving," Campbell said. "That is the first game. We have to put it behind us and move on. You have to credit their defensive line. They got a great push. They are very strong."
Auburn's head football coach agreed with Campbell. "We got beat at the point of attack," said Tommy Tuberville, who added, "We couldn't handle their front four or five or six. They did a good job of slanting their front and we couldn't block them. We couldn't sustain any drives. They put pressure on us all night and made us turn the ball over three times. When you turn the ball over three times against a team like that, you are not going to have a very good chance of winning the ball game.
"Defensively, we played pretty good," Tuberville added. "We played hard. We gave them some problems. We tackled well at times. We probably played as good as I thought we would play the first game going into the season against a good offense like that. They do a good job of game-planning and moving people around. Again, we just didn't get it done on offense.
"Offensively, we struggled in the scrimmage two weeks ago and we did today. We made some changes after that scrimmage and these changes...obviously they just beat us to the point of attack.
"They got us a little bit out of our game plan," Tuberville said. "We wanted to run the ball around 40 to 42 times. We ran it 36. When we got behind, we had to start throwing a little bit more. Very disappointing. Very disappointing to the players. I knew we had our hands full with probably one of the better teams we will play. They came in here and just beat us to the punch."
Redshirt freshman receiver Courtney Taylor had four catches for 43 yards in his Auburn debut Saturday night.
It would be hard to come up with a worse way to start the game from the Tigers' perspective. On the third play from scrimmage, a short Campbell pass was picked off by Darnell Bing after a two-yard loss on a Carnell Williams run and an incomplete pass to wide open Anthony Mix.
A five-yard interception return put the Trojans in business at the Tiger 20. Two plays later a pass interference call put the Trojans first and goal at the AU four. On second down Matt Leinart's first college complete pass went for a five-yard TD to USC star wide receiver Mike Williams with 12:38 on the clock.
The Trojans controlled the field position most of the first half and scored the only other points of the first half on a 28-yard field goal set up by a drive of nine plays that covered 47 yards.
Auburn never seriously threatened scoring in the first two quarters. Its deepest penetration was the USC 35 on its last try of the first half, but the Tigers punted the ball away on fourth and 11 with 1:42 left.
At the break, the Tigers had managed just 88 total yards with only 35 on the ground on 17 carries. The passing wasn't much better with Campbell 6-17 for 53 yards with the one costly interception. The Trojans had the ball for two fewer plays than the Tigers, but managed 144 total yards with 70 on the ground and 74 in the air as sophomore Leinart hit 8-13 passes.
The Trojans kept the heat on Auburn by taking the second half kickoff marching into Tiger territory before settling for a 42-yard field goal to make the score 13-0 on a 42-0 field goal by Killen.
A turnover by the offense gave the Trojans another three points on a 35-yard field goal after Ben Obomanu dropped the football as he tried to run with a pass reception. That put the Trojans on top 16-0 with 7:22 left in the third quarter.
A fumble Campbell as he was blinded on a sack put the game out of reach with 13:51 left when the Trojans cashed that miscue in one play later as Hersel Dennis ran 14 yards up the middle for a score.
USC managed just 16 first downs, 123 yards rushing and 192 passing, but the 315 yards total offense and no turnovers was more than enough on a night when the Tigers managed just 164 net yards with three turnovers.
Auburn defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said he was most disappointed in his group not taking the ball away from the Trojans, who were starting a new quarterback with Carson Palmer gone to the pros. "We really wanted to get some takeaways in this game," he said.
Carnell Williams led the Tigers in rushing with 12 carries for 40 yards. Ronnie Brown had nine carries for 28 yards. Dennis led all rusher with 21 carries for 85 yards and one TD for the Trojans.
The Tigers are back in action next Saturday at Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are 0-1 after losing at BYU on Thursday night. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. from Grant Field in Atlanta as the Tigers and Yellow Jackets renew a dormant rivalry that began in the 19th century.
Game Notes: Offensive tackle Marcus McNeil's injury is believed to be a bruised shin...Neither team converted many third downs. Auiburn was just three of 15 while USC made four of 15...The Trojans now lead the all-time series vs. Auburn 2-1...Southern Cal plays BYU next week, the team that defeated Auburn's next opponent, Georgia Tech...Karlos Dansby led Auburn in tackles with five solos and two assists. Lofa Tatupu led the Trojans with eight solos and four assists.