His right foot soaking in a bucket of ice water, Jason Campbell sat on a folding chair in the training room at Jordan-Hare Stadium 90 minutes after Auburn's 10--9 victory over defending national champion LSU last Saturday. Most of Campbell's Auburn teammates had long since scattered into the cool of the Southern night, but the quarterback lingered, face aglow, still reliving the two most important plays of his football life as he nursed a sprained toe.
"The guys on the team know that I've taken a lot of unfair criticism over the years," said Campbell, a fifth-year senior who completed 16 of 27 passes for 170 yards against LSU. "Those two plays in the fourth quarter say a lot about my character and the team's character."
With 3:07 left in the game, Auburn trailed 9--3 and faced a fourth-and-12 on LSU's 28. The 6'5", 223-pound Campbell has incurred the wrath of fans over the last two seasons because of his flameouts in big games (see: Georgia in 2002, USC and Ole Miss in '03), but after Auburn took a timeout Campbell trotted into the huddle and acted as if he were the one who had won the national championship last year, announcing, "We're going to get this!"
"When I heard Jason say that," says sophomore wide receiver Courtney Taylor, "I knew it was our time."
Campbell rolled to his right and, just before he was flattened by two defenders, sidearmed a desperation pass to Taylor along the sideline for a 14-yard gain. Three plays later, with 1:14 remaining, Campbell rifled a 16yard strike to Taylor, who had slipped behind the defense in the end zone. As the largest crowd ever to watch a football game in Alabama (87,451) cheered thunderously, LSU's 10game winning streak came to an end, and ninth-ranked Auburn (3--0) assumed the driver's seat in the SEC West, which these Tigers haven't won outright since 2000.
"Jason is a lot better than people give him credit for," says first-year offensive coordinator Ron Borges, the team's fourth in Campbell's five years at the school. "If you give Jason time to throw, he'll hit the target."
Borges's version of the West Coast offense takes advantage of Campbell's superb athletic ability with a mix of rollouts, bootlegs and options. Though Campbell hasn't been spectacular so far this season--he is averaging only 140 passing yards a game--he has thrown six touchdowns against just a single interception. Under Borges's tutelage Campbell has become both a more daring and a more accurate mid-range passer, as was evident on the two plays that may well define his career on the Plains.
"I finally feel like I'm in an offense that fits me," said Campbell in the afterglow on Saturday. "Hopefully, this is just the start of great things for us."