After last season close friends Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown burned through their cellphone minutes debating whether they should enter the NFL draft early. Upon deciding to return to the Tigers for their senior years, the two tailbacks became even tighter, spending most nights this summer playing video games or hanging out at one of the barbecue joints in Auburn. This fall they will be linked more closely than ever because for the first time they will line up in the backfield together.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think you‚Äôll find a better one-two punch in the country,‚Äù says Tigers coach Tommy Tuberville. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôll present a lot of problems for defenses.‚Äù
Tuberville hired a new offensive coordinator, Al Borges from Indiana, who has installed the West Coast offense and created the sets that will utilize the complementary runners in the splitback and I formations. The 5'11", 204-pound Williams, who gained 1,307 yards last season, is a slasher with blazing speed; the 6'1", 232-pound Brown, who chipped in 446 yards, is more of a power back. Over the last three years they combined for more rushing yards (4,460) than any other tailback tandem in the nation. ‚ÄúWe feel like we should score every time we get the ball,‚Äù says Williams, who last season led the SEC with 17 touchdowns.
Tuberville and Borges believe that quarterback Jason Campbell also will thrive in the new system. A redshirt senior working under his fourth offensive coordinator in five years, the 6'5", 228-pound Campbell can throw on the move but has been plagued by stretches of inconsistency in his three years as a starter. The West Coast offense emphasizes short passes, which should make Campbell more effective. ‚ÄúJason had a great spring,‚Äù Brown says. ‚ÄúHe looks more comfortable than ever. Now Jason, just like the rest of us, needs to prove that we were better than we played last year.‚Äù
If they don‚Äôt prove it, Tuberville could be looking for a job. Last year expectations on the Plains ran as high as they had in a decade, but the Tigers lost their first two games--scoring a total of three points against USC and Georgia Tech--and in the second half of the season got whipped by SEC powers LSU, Ole Miss and Georgia to finish 8‚Äì5. Auburn has to replace five starters on defense, including all-conference linebackers Karlos Dansby and Dontarrious Thomas.
Tuberville was nearly fired over the winter, and anything short of winning the SEC West could bring down the ax. --L.A.
2003 RECORD 8‚Äì5 (5‚Äì3, 3rd in SEC West)
FINAL AP RANK NR
RETURNING STARTERS 13
KEY RETURNEES (2003 stats)
RB CARNELL WILLIAMS (SR.)
17 rushing TDs led SEC, tied school mark
QB JASON CAMPBELL (SR.)
Completed 62.3% of career pass attempts
LB TRAVIS WILLIAMS (JR.)
Leading tackler (67) among returnees
WR COURTNEY TAYLOR (SOPH.)
Caught a pass in every game as a freshman
FS WILL HERRING (SOPH.)
SEC All-Freshman selection with three INTs
TELLING NUMBER 11
Rushing touchdowns needed by tailback Carnell Williams to surpass the school record of 43, held by Bo Jackson (1982 through ‚Äô85).
The jewel of Auburn‚Äôs 2003 recruiting class, defensive end Stanley McClover cooled his heels with the scout team as a partial academic qualifier. Still, he dominated the Tigers‚Äô starting offensive front in practice. Quick off the line and imposing at 6'2" and 252 pounds, McClover is now ready to show he‚Äôs one of the Tigers‚Äô best players.
Sept. 4 LOUISIANA-MONROE
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†11 at Mississippi State
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†25 THE CITADEL
Oct. ¬†2 at Tennessee
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†9 LOUISIANA TECH
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†30 at Mississippi
Nov. 13 GEORGIA
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†20 at Alabama