Not forcing any turnovers, the Tiger defense played well, but did not do enough on Saturday as the offense struggled against the USC Trojans in a 23-0 loss.
"We did not play well enough to win," AU defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said. "If we would have played well enough to win we would have won or it would have been a tie. We have a lot of things to get better at, but the kids played hard and never got their head down and never quit. We're going to continue to work and get better every single week."
Maybe the most surprising thing from Saturday's game was the lack of turnovers by the Trojans. Starting new quarterback Matt Leinart, Coach Norm Chow didn't loosen the reigns very much as the game plan called for short to medium passes and a ball control offense. The sophomore left-hander did it to well enought to keep Auburn off-balance for much of the game.
"I knew it would be hard to do that because they weren't going to put him in any situations that would try to rattle him," Chizik said of getting to Leinart. "Everything in the first half and even most of the game was three-step, quick drop, protect him and get the ball out of his hands. We went in with a blitz plan, but we knew it might not be very effective because they weren't going to let it be. We just had to play coverage all day and make sure we didn't give up anything deep."
While the defense was busy keeping things under control, the offense kept throwing gasoline on the fire with three costly turnovers deep in their own territory. The first came just two minutes into the game when Jason Campbell threw an interception on the Auburn 20-yard line. That led to a touchdown and two more turnovers inside the 22-yard line led to 10 more points and the Trojans cruised to the comfortable victory.
"Their defense did what we want to do," senior Reggie Torbor said. "They set their offense up with easy scores. That's what all good defenses do. They get turnovers and field position for their offense. We didn't do that tonight."
Doug Langenfeld waits for the Trojans to come to the line of scrimmage in Saturday's game.
One thing the defense did was compete for the full 60 minutes. A good example of that effort came from junior college transfer defensive end Doug Langenfeld. In his first Division I college football game, the South Carolina native finished with three tackles, two for losses, and Auburn's only sack of the night. Chizik said he was pleased with what he saw out of number 98.
"I was very proud of Doug," the defensive coordinator said. "From what I saw in the box he was very productive on the field. Two or three different times he was getting pressure on the quarterback. He made a play on a bootleg. It was a good first game for him to me without seeing the film."
Linebacker Karlos Dansby led the way for the Tigers on defense with seven tackles while Dontarrious Thomas added six with two going for losses of four yards. Walk-on safety Andrew Letts, who has been impressive because of his aggressive play, added five tackles in just a few series of action. McNeil, who had four tackles, said the defense just didn't do what it wanted to do and it cost his team dearly.
"We played okay, but we just didn't force any turnovers," the senior said. "We didn't set the tone, they were just consistent. We never created a spark for the offense or our fans. I think that's the most disappointing thing about the defense today. We played okay for the most part, especially with the field position they had, but we can definitely play much, much better.
"We just have to try to win a ball game right now," McNeil added. "This is a tough loss, but we knew that this game wasn't going to make us or break us. What good does it do if we win this game and then lose the next 11. We just have to move on and move forward. We're a pretty good ball club, but we have to get better this week."