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Auburn's Complete Fleet

USC's opponent for the season opener on Saturday is loaded at the running back position, led by junior 'Cadillac' Williams.

August 28, 2003|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville and his staff spent months formulating a game plan for the season opener against USC.

But Saturday, hours before the late-afternoon kickoff at sold-out Jordan-Hare Stadium, Tuberville's main concern will be the meal plan -- and making sure running back Carnell Williams follows it.

"We are going to make him eat the pregame meal," Tuberville said this week. "We'll make sure of that."

Williams, nicknamed "Cadillac," said he failed to eat before last season's Labor Day opener against the Trojans at the Coliseum because he was "too geared up."

Williams began suffering from cramps in the second quarter, but finished the first half with 97 yards and a touchdown in 14 carries. Auburn was held to minus two yards rushing in the second half and USC won, 24-17, with a clock-killing, fourth-quarter scoring drive.

"I learned my lesson," Williams said in an interview this week. "I'm going to force myself to eat."

Sixth-ranked Auburn, which averaged 203.7 yards rushing last season, might try to force the ball down the eighth-ranked Trojans' throats with a deep and talented running back corps that features Williams, junior Ronnie Brown, sophomore Tre Smith and junior college transfer Brandon Jacobs.

"Having four guys like that doesn't happen very often," said Tuberville, who begins his fifth season at Auburn. "When we got here we didn't have any, so we've been on both sides of the spectrum."

Williams, a 5-foot-11, 204-pound junior, sat out the final six games last season after suffering a broken leg against Florida. In the games leading up to that, he gained 170 yards against Vanderbilt, 106 against Mississippi State, 202 against Syracuse and 99 against Arkansas. He averaged 5.3 yards a carry and finished the season with 745 yards.

"He is really shifty and bounces off tackles real well," said Trojan defensive end Kenechi Udeze, who was part of a unit that surrendered only 83.2 yards rushing a game last season. "Last year, we didn't tackle well [against Auburn] in the first half, so we've been practicing our tackling all week."

Brown, 6-1 and 223 pounds, averaged 5.8 yards a carry last season and finished with a team-best 1,008 yards. He averaged 138.5 yards in the final six games he played, concluding the season with a 184-yard performance in Auburn's 13-9 victory over Penn State in the Capital One Bowl.

"Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown are two special guys that are very physical and can run outside and inside," Tuberville said. "And I'm not sure that Tre Smith isn't better than both these guys."

Smith, a 5-10, 197-pound sophomore, made his first start a memorable one in last season's regular-season finale against Alabama. With Williams and Brown unavailable because of injuries, Smith rushed for 126 yards in 25 carries as the Tigers upset the Crimson Tide, 17-7, at Tuscaloosa.

Jacobs, 6-4 and 257 pounds, rushed for 1,899 yards last season at Coffeyville Junior College in Kansas.

"We've got four guys that can carry the load," Williams said.

USC Coach Pete Carroll sees it the same way.

"It doesn't matter who's back there -- they're all problems," Carroll said. "Carnell was the guy we saw the most of and he gave us fits last year."

Williams said Auburn's coaches have made it no secret that USC did not allow an opposing runner to gain more than 100 yards in a game last season.

USC's defensive players said they are not dwelling on their success last year.

"It's a great streak to have under our belt, but that was last year," defensive end Omar Nazel said. "We have our hands full with the game coming up."

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