Carnell (Cadillac) Williams's inner critic was nagging enough.
But when an 0-2 start transformed Auburn from preseason favorite
to seeming paper tiger, Williams, one quarter of a touted
tailback unit that had failed to score in either loss, got an
earful from family, friends, even random classmates whom he
suspected had never seen the inside of Jordan-Hare Stadium. "I'd
be walking through campus, and someone would say, 'Aren't you
guys supposed to be the best in the country?'" says Williams.
"And some other guy would go, 'So where's that rushing game?'"
What seemed hopelessly lost has now been found. Last Saturday
night in Auburn the unranked Tigers beat then No. 7 Tennessee
28-21--and stayed in the thick of the SEC race--by establishing
their power running game. After averaging just 41.5 yards in
losses to Southern Cal and Georgia Tech, Auburn had its third
straight 200-yard ground game in its third straight win.
Contributing to the Tigers' 264 yards were Williams (36 carries
for 185), junior Ronnie Brown (12 for 65), junior Brandon Jacobs
(3 for 19) and sophomore Tre Smith (2 for 11). "All four bring
something different," says senior linebacker Dontarrious Thomas,
whose defense held the Vols to four yards on the ground. "Carnell
is a slasher, Ronnie has finesse and power, Tre's a little dart,
and Brandon [6'4", 257 pounds] will just crush you."
This yard-swallowing quartet wasn't the only inspired act.
Streaky junior quarterback Jason Campbell showed poise, and the
offensive line blocked better than it had all season. "We used a
little more motion and formations, but it came down to guys
executing," says offensive coordinator Hugh Nall. "On the morning
after Georgia Tech, I made the entire offense watch the game tape
from start to finish. I said, 'You guys tell me what's wrong.'
They saw how many people were making tiny mistakes--a missed
block here, a missed cut there."
All last week Williams lobbed challenges back and forth with
roommate Carlos Rogers (the cornerback who would seal the victory
on Saturday with an interception in the last minute) to have
career-best games against the Vols, and his mind spun maddeningly
to Tennessee's Rocky Top, which Auburn's trainers put on constant
replay on the training room stereo to stoke the Tigers' wrath. By
the time Williams broke off his first run, a seven-yard dash
through a yawning hole for a first down, he says he felt
October 12, 2003
With a humbling September behind him, Auburn coach Tommy
Tuberville praised the spirit of his Tigers, who face unbeaten
Arkansas this Saturday. "I'm proud they stayed positive and
focused," said Tuberville. "We'll sacrifice an 0-2 start to be
2-0 in the conference any day."