Trojans Take Down Tigers!
Sept. 2, 2002
LOS ANGELES - Carson Palmer's final season at Southern California is off to a fast start.
Palmer threw for 302 yards and a touchdown, and scored the game-deciding TD on a sneak with 1:26 remaining as No. 18 Southern California opened with a 24-17 win over Auburn on Monday night.
'That fifth-year senior got us,' Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said after the Tigers lost their opener in what was just their second game ever in California.
The Trojans' winning drive started at midfield with five minutes remaining.
'This offense knows what it's supposed to do, and we did,' Palmer said. 'I missed a couple of (throws) in the first half, but I felt more comfortable in the second.
'Our receivers did a good job of getting open.'
Palmer bulled into the end zone from 1 yard out for the go-ahead score in the teams' second meeting ever.
Still trying to live up to the high expectations that greeted him at USC, Palmer completed 23-of-32, including a 14-yard touchdown pass, and was intercepted twice.
'Other than those two interceptions, it was the kind of game you need from your quarterback,' USC coach Pete Carroll said.
Tailback Malaefou MacKenzie, who often seemed overlooked by the Auburn defense, had six catches for 117 yards and also carried 11 times for 31 yards.
Carroll, beginning his second year at USC, was pleased with the opening win against a tough opponent.
'We stayed with our game plan. Our timing was off, but I think it will be OK in the future. We did not look as fast tonight as we think we can be,' he said. 'But it was very warm out there and I think both teams slowed down because of the heat.'
Temperatures were in the 90s at kickoff time, and remained in the 80s for most of the game.
Auburn's Carnell Williams ran for 94 yards on 21 carries and a TD, but the Trojans' defense held him to minus-2 yards on seven carries in the second half.
Daniel Cobb went 10-of-21 for 132 yards for the Tigers, with one interception.
'Overall we had a good performance, good enough to win except for our defense in the second half,' Tuberville said.
After an Auburn drive stalled at the USC 22, the Tigers' Damon Duval made a 39-yard field goal nine seconds into the fourth quarter to tie it 17-17.
David Davis' 37-yard field goal midway through third quarter had put the Trojans up by 3 points.
Auburn linebacker Karlos Dansby had an interception in the first half and recovered a fumble by Kareem Kelly at the Tigers' 12-yard line to turn away a threat in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers got some help from a Trojans mistake, and some luck at the goal line to even it 14-all just before halftime.
Auburn punted from on fourth-and-14 from its own 15, but USC was called for having 12 men on the field, giving the Tigers a first down at the 30.
Cobb marched the Tigers down the field, then tried to score himself on a scramble with time running out in the half, but he fumbled at the USC 1. The ball popped into the air and into the arms of Auburn tailback Ronnie Brown, who pushed it over the line for the score with 11 seconds left.
Sultan McCullough gave the Trojans a 14-7 lead earlier in the quarter when he scored on a 3-yard run to cap a drive that started when Omar Nazel intercepted a Cobb pass at the USC 25 to end an Auburn threat.
Williams tied the game 7-7 with his 23-yard scoring run one play after Dansby made a lunging interception of Palmer's pass in the flat.
The Trojans capitalized on a Cobb fumble for a touchdown moments earlier. Mike Pollard recovered for USC at the Auburn 41, and Palmer hooked up with Kelly on the 14-yard scoring pass.
The Trojans were coming off a 6-6 season. Auburn was 7-5 last year, losing four of its last five.
In the previous meeting between the schools, the Tigers beat the Trojans 16-7 in the 1987 Citrus Bowl.
In Auburn's only other trip to California, the Tigers were beaten 12-0 at Santa Clara in 1936.
By KEN PETERS
AP Sports Writer