Do the math: Auburn features runners, USC showcases receivers

Updated: August 29, 2003, 11:10 PM ET

AUBURN, Ala. -- Here's Auburn's likely gameplan in a nutshell: Run and stop the pass. Southern California's strategy should go something like this: Pass and stop the run.

Sounds simple, but the defenses draw formidable assignments in a game Saturday featuring one of the nation's best tailback tandems and top receiving duos.

The sixth-ranked Tigers are so high on tailbacks Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown, they're calling them co-starters and there's no telling who will wind up on the field first. The eighth-ranked Trojans feel similarly about 1,000-yard receivers Mike Williams and Keary Colbert.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville says Williams andBrown can run but they can't hide.

"We're not going to be able to hide those guys," Tuberville said. "Unless they have not read a newspaper or magazine, they know we're going to have a good running game.

"We're going to see quite a few people trying to stop those guys from running the football. They did last year, too, and we kept running it."

USC won't be able to break in new quarterback Matt Leinart with a lightweight opener. He didn't throw a pass in three brief cameos last season relieving Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer.

Leinart, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, couldn't even get on the field as the Trojans' backup holder.

"We never asked Carson Palmer to steal the show on our offense," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "We wanted everybody to be involved and to get the ball to the receivers and run the football half the time.

"This is no different with our team now. We think Matt can do all the same things style-wise."

Auburn defensive tackle Spencer Johnson happily summarized what's facing Leinart: "87,000 people in Jordan-Hare Stadium plus 11 guys coming after him full-speed. Hopefully we can get him rattled. Right now, we're drooling at the mouth to get out there and try to get after him a little bit."

It doesn't take a wily veteran to realize it would be a good idea to throw to Williams and Colbert, especially with last year's two leading rushers gone.

"Having those guys makes my job just so much easier. You can throw the ball anywhere around them and they'll get it," Leinart said.

Not so fast.

The Tigers picked off 21 passes last season and return eight starters, including linebackers Karlos Dansby and Dontarrious Thomas, who both made some preseason All-America teams.

Auburn is expected to start a redshirt freshman and two sophomores in the secondary. Cornerback Junior Rosegreen has a strong idea what that means.

"I don't care what anybody says, this game is on the secondary," Rosegreen said. "If the secondary plays the way we know how to play, then I think the game is put in our hands.

"I know that our front seven is going to stop the run and they're going to have to go to the air, because they have All-American receivers."

Defensively, USC ranked sixth nationally against the run last season, and allowed only four of 13 opponents to rush for 100-plus yards.

"If we can keep them under 100 yards, they'll start passing and I think that's one of our strengths," USC defensive tackle Shaun Cody said.

Williams was leading the SEC in rushing last season before breaking his left leg in the seventh game against Florida. No problem,Brown wound up with 1,008 yards and 13 touchdowns and gained 184 against Penn State in the Capital One Bowl.

Tuberville said the starter will depend on which opening play is called. Maybe both will line up in the backfield, or one slip out to receiver. Auburn coaches have had months to come up with inventive ways to use their two most dangerous offensive threats, plus talented backups Tre Smith and Brandon Jacobs.

"You're going to see some outstanding things between us, because we all make each other better," Williams said.

USC, meanwhile, is touting its defensive line as the nation's best. The Tigers faced three lines -- Georgia, Alabama and Penn State -- to close last season that sent a combined seven players to the NFL draft, including three first-round picks.

Auburn had a 100-yard rusher in all three games, so guard Monreko Crittenden isn't overly concerned.

"They don't have the brute strength Alabama and LSU and all those guys had," Crittenden said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index