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Defense Makes the Difference

Times Staff Writers

Carnell “Cadillac” Williams and the three other members of heralded Auburn’s tailback corps were supposed to challenge USC’s front seven on Saturday night.

Williams had gained 97 yards in the first half against USC last season before he was slowed by leg cramps.

But USC held Williams to 40 yards and Ronnie Brown to 28 as the Trojans shut out Auburn, 23-0, at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Last week, Carroll called Williams the best back the Trojans faced in 2002.

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“The plays that we had to make last year, that we struggled on -- we really stopped them cold,” Coach Pete Carroll said after Saturday’s game. “That was a big difference for us.”

Said lineman Kenechi Udeze: “We were more prepared.... We tried to do a better job of tackling because we missed a lot of tackles that first half last year. We tried to do that and everything else took care of itself.”

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The temperature was 88 degrees and humidity pushed the heat index to 95 at kickoff.

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By the end of the first quarter, the field was covered in a shadow but the conditions still took a toll.

“Both teams were whipped by the heat,” Carroll said. “We had to hang in there and they had to hang in there too. We were just a little bit better than they were.”

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The leading tackler on a veteran USC defense was ... Lofa Tatupu?

“Yeah, it was kind of shocking,” said the sophomore linebacker, who is replacing departed Mike Pollard. “I thought I would be kind of a role player here.”

The son of former Trojan fullback Mosi Tatupu -- who sat out last year after transferring from Maine -- was more like a “roll” player in the 23-0 victory over Auburn.

He rolled the Tigers for eight solo tackles and four assists, including two sacks and 3.4 tackles for losses that amounted to 19 yards.

Tatupu was flying everywhere, particularly on third down, where the Tigers failed to convert on 12 of 15 occasions and eventually drove their loyal fans into early exits.

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“We heard the noise,” he said of the crowd. “Then we heard it go away.”

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Norm Chow, USC offensive coordinator, admitted that the game plan was initially conservative to protect new quarterback Matt Leinart, but then he gave him more freedom as he improved.

“Yeah, we had a little plan in the beginning,” Chow said. “But we saw how he did and in the second half, we opened it up for him a little bit.”

He threw 13 passes in the first half, 17 passes in the second half. And while five of his eight completions in the first half were to Mike Williams, he relied on others later in the game, developing a particular rapport with new tight end Dominique Byrd, who caught three balls for 63 yards.

“I know they like to use the tight end in this offense, so I want to be ready,” said Byrd, a 6-3, 255-pound sophomore from Minneapolis.

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This was the worst season-opening loss in Auburn history, the Tigers’ first shutout loss in 45 games, and worst shutout loss in 23 years .... The Trojans are 3-0 in the state of Alabama.

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