USC's defense moves into spotlight

Updated: August 31, 2003, 1:09 PM ET

AUBURN, Ala. -- Matt Leinart might not have seven 300-yard passing games like Carson Palmer. And perhaps Southern California won't score 30-plus points 10 times the way they did when the Heisman Trophy winner was at quarterback.

Then again, who cares?

The eighth-ranked Trojans can surely win with defense, and proved that in an impressive 23-0 defeat of No. 6 Auburn on Saturday night.

The performance led Leinart, USC's new quarterback, to proclaim the defense "by far the best in the country."

"We heard a great deal about this offense, including their running backs and offensive line that came back," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "For us to hold these guys in check for four quarters is something that we are very, very excited about."

With good reason.

Auburn tailbacks Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown combined for just 68 yards on 20 carries and the Trojans sacked Jason Campbell six times for minus 46 yards.

USC also forced three turnovers, which the offense converted into 17 points on drives totaling just 39 yards.

"Their defense did what we wanted to do," Auburn defensive end Reggie Torbor said. "They set their offense up for easy scores."

USC, which had the nation's No. 6 rated defense last year, hasn't opened a season with a shutout since beating Arkansas 17-0 in 1973. It was the Tigers' worst season-opening loss and snapped a 44-game streak without being shut out.

The USC defense hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in the past 14 games, and won't face many tougher tests on the ground this season. Williams andBrown combined for 1,753 yards in injury-shortened years.

Williams missed the final six games with a broken leg andBrown missed the regular-season finale with a sprained ankle.

The Trojans have touted their defensive line as the nation's best, and made Campbell a believer.

"They're real strong," said Campbell, who was 12-of-26 for 121 yards with an interception. "They kept subbing in and out and every last one of them is pretty good."

Auburn was outgained 315-164, the Tigers' fewest yards since getting the same total against Mississippi State on Oct. 7, 2000. They ran 36 times for a paltry 43 yards and couldn't get much going through the air.

"We came in with a gameplan to stop the run and eliminate the passing game," USC defensive end Omar Nazel said. "To an extent, we exceeded our goals."

The offense wasn't bad either.

Leinart's first start was strong for a quarterback who hadn't thrown a collegiate pass. He apparently learned well as understudy to Palmer last season and under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Norm Chow.

The Trojans averaged 39 points during their eight-game winning streak to end last season, and Palmer went over 300 yards passing more often than not.

Leinart was 17-of-30 for 192 yards and a touchdown, connecting eight times for 104 yards with Mike Williams. He also didn't throw an interception against a defense that led the Southeastern Conference with 21 picks last season.

"Once we really got going it felt good," Leinart said. "I just felt like I was out there at practice."

Meanwhile, Auburn found it needed more work after its most anticipated season in years began with a thud.

"We've just got to look forward," linebacker Dontarrious Thomas said. "This game is over with."

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