Head coach Tommy Tuberville cited too many missed assignments, particularly in the secondary, to beat what he called a talented USC team on the road. Another contributing factor was Auburn's inability to run the ball in the second half after Carnell Williams was slowed by what the AU coaches said were cramps and a sore knee. Williams said he had problems cutting off his left knee in the second half when he and the entire Auburn offense got little accomplished.
Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said Auburn's inability to stop the Trojans on third downs was fatal. USC converted 7-13 third downs while Auburn made just 3-11. "That was really disappointing," Chizik said.
Chizik also said the linebackers and secondary need to do a better job of reading the offense and making adjustments in their coverage. Fifth-year senior Southern Cal quarterback Carson Palmer patiently shredded the Tiger pass defense as he completed 23-32 passes for 302 yards. "There weren't a lot of plays when somebody wasn't open," Palmer said after the game.
USC racked up 386 total yards while the Tigers could manage on only 281 after having 246 at halftime.
Tuberville said, "I thought if we held them to 17 points we would win the game. We just aren't good enough with our offense not hitting on all cylinders to score 24 points on the road with our offense making that many mistakes."
Tailback Carnell Williams prepares to hit the hole for his only touchdown of the night. He finished with 94 yards on the ground.
Offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino said he was disappointed in the quarterback play as Daniel Cobb completed just 11-22 passes for 141 yards while throwing a costly interception and fumbling twice. Cobb also missed some open receivers and was the victim of key dropped passes. Like the Trojans, the Auburn receivers were open much of the night.
Petrino said he was also disappointed that Cobb didn't do a better job of checking to the proper play in the second half and said that hurt the Auburn running attack, which had been solid in the first two quarters.
USC got the first turnover of the game on Auburn's opening drive as Mike Pollard recovered a fumble by Daniel Cobb as the Tiger quarterback tried to run for a first down after he couldn't find an open receiver.
USC cashed in quickly, moving 41 yards on five plays with the touchdown a 14-yard pass from Palmer to Kareem Kelly with the game less than three minutes old.
Auburn couldn't move on its second possession but cashed in on USC's first turnover as Karlos Dansby intercepted a swing pass by Palmer and returned the football four yards to the USC 23. On the next play, Carnell Williams took a handoff and scored at left guard on a classic run through traffic.
Starting late in the first quarter, the Tigers drove from their own 20 after the Trojans punted the ball into the end zone for a 24-yard net gain. With USC putting eight defenders near the line of scrimmage, Cobb went to work through the air to move the Tigers deep into Trojan territory.
However, a poor decision by Cobb ended the threat when he tossed a screen pass into the arms of defensive end Omar Nazel, who rumbled 15 yards to the USC 40 before Williams made the tackle. USC then drove 60 yards on eight plays, the big one a fourth and one conversion at the AU 26 when Palmer threw a swing pass for 12 yards.
Tailback Sultan McCullough scored the touchdown with 12:04 left. He crossed the goal line standing up on a three-yard run at right tackle to give the home team a 14-7 lead.
Auburn responded by quickly moving the ball deep into USC territory, but again came up empty. A 43-yard pass from Daniel Cobb to Devin Aromashodu on a deep sideline route was the big play. However, on fourth and one inside the USC 10, Williams was held inches short as he slipped in the backfield when taking a handoff to follow fullback Brandon Johnson up the middle and the Trojans took over with 9:18 left in the half.
USC quickly attacked the Auburn secondary and moved into Tiger territory before strong safety Junior Rosegreen's diving interception at the nine-yard with 6:54 stopped the threat.
The Tigers kept the ball until 11 seconds remained when they scored on a fumble recovery at the USC goal line on what will likely be one of the strangest plays of the season. On first and goal at the two with just 19 seconds and one time out left, Ronnie Brown was stuffed for a half-yard gain. AU burned its last timeout of the half on the final play before the touchdown.
Cobb then rolled right, couldn't find a receiver opener and tried to run through traffic at end for the score. The ball was jarred loose and never hit the ground. Brown caught the ball while running towards the end zone and bulled it over the goal line just before his forward progress was stopped and the Tigers had a halftime tie at 14-14. The drive took 15 plays and covered 91 yards. Almost all of the yardage came on runs by Brown and Williams, who hurt his ankle on the series and was not on the field when the TD was scored.
At intermission Auburn had 246 yards with 142 rushing yards on 27 carries. Cobb was 7-12 for 104 passing yards with one interception. USC had 204 yards at the break with 171 through the air. All four first half touchdowns came following turnovers.
USC got the second half kickoff and controlled the ball for more than half of the third quarter before settling for a 37-yard field goal by David Davis after the drive was stalled by a holding call. That put the Trojans up 17-14 with 7:05 left in the quarter.
The Tigers couldn't go anywhere following a kickoff return by true freshman tailback Tre Smith to the 20-yard line. A Duval 46-yard Duval punt changed the field position when accompanied by a 10-yard loss on the return and a block in the back penalty, forcing the Trojans to start at their own 16.
The Tigers forced a quick three and out and got the ball back at their own 47 following a 16-yard punt return by senior Marcel Willis.
On the next series, Cobb was tackled by the facemask and was cut near the eye. The Tigers called a timeout and had to go to the bullpen for Jason Campbell. Cobb was back in the game three plays later to complete a pass to freshman split end Anthony Mix for nine yards and a first down to the USC 29.
Auburn moved to first down at the 19 when Cobb caught the Trojans in a blitz and hit Robert Johnson on the numbers with a perfect pass, but the junior tight end dropped the ball.
The drive stalled when Mix couldn't handle a third and 13 pass near the goal line. Duval then drilled a 39-yard field goal to tie the game at 17-17 with 14:51 left in the final quarter.
The Trojans looked like they would quickly regain the lead until the Tigers got a break when Karlos Dansby recovered a fumble at the Tiger 12 following a hit by strong safety Junior Rosegreen with 11:35 to play. However, USC wouldn't be generous on a do-over.
After Auburn punted four plays later, the home team burned the clock and the Tigers with a 13-play, 50-yard touchdown drive that chewed up eight minutes and 39 seconds. Palmer scored from two yards out on a QB sneak, but the biggest play of the drive was his third and 11 pass to Kelly for 18 yards.
"We allowed them to convert way too many third downs," said defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. "That was one of the most disappointing parts of the game."
The TD came with 1:26. A kickoff into the end zone left the Tigers 80 yards to cover with two timeouts. The Tigers got as far as their own 40, but were stopped on downs eight yards shy of a first down with 17 seconds left enabling the Trojans to celebrate the opening night victory.
The Tigers return to action on Saturday with a 4 p.m. home opener vs. Western Carolina, a 23-3 winner over Liberty in its first game last Saturday. The game will be televised by The Auburn Network on a pay per view basis. There will be cable coverage in the state of Alabama, large dish users can call 1-800-TV-STARS and it will also be available to Dish Network subscribers.