Junior quarterback Jason Campbell knows the value of confidence. Struggling through his first two games with just 311 yards passing with no touchdowns and sacked an incredible 13 times, he has come back strong and the Auburn offense has gotten untracked just in time for its toughest stretch of games this season. In wins over Vanderbilt and Western Kentucky Campbell is a combined 24-32 for 393 yards in just over three quarters of play with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
"We're trying to do a lot of different things on offense," Campbell says of his recent success. "The first two games are in the past. After that we started looking for things to get more people involved and get them (the defense) on their heels. We're trying to get things to balance out. One thing that has helped is our running game is back up. That has taken a lot of pressure off me and off the passing game."
Campbell throws a pass to Courtney Taylor against Vanderbilt.
The increased productivity of the running game has allowed Campbell and company to throw the ball downfield and make some big plays. Those passing plays have forced defenses to avoid the all-out blitzes they used earlier in the season because now the passing game has balanced the offense and made opponents play the Tigers more straight up.
"It's paying off for us," Campbell said of extra work on the passing game. "It's coming around big for us now because people can't just sit in there and focus on the run. We have an opportunity to make some big plays in the passing game and we've thrown the ball a lot more than we had in the past. I think the receivers and tight ends feel like they have an opportunity to make plays. That all comes because people respect our running game. Now that we've got our running game going also we have an opportunity to keep things balanced and keep people on their heels."
Balance has been a key for the Tigers with 546 yards passing and 504 yards rushing in the last two games. Much of the credit for that can also go to an improved offensive line that hasn't allowed a sack since Georgia Tech and has opened holes for the running game. That has also allowed the tight ends to become more involved in the passing game instead of being forced to stay at home and block as an extra lineman. Saturday the tight ends combined to catch five passes and made sure every opponent from here on out has to regard the position as more than just a blocker.
"We have some young tight ends," Campbell said. "Last year we had two big, experienced tight ends. This year we're filling in young guys. Right now they are still learning their roles. Every time they step on the field they are playing hard even if they're making a mistake. We're trying to get as many people as we can involved in the offense to give everyone an opportunity to make plays for us so that people can't look at just one thing we do on offense."
Auburn will need the entire offensive arsenal at its disposal Saturday night at 6:45 on ESPN when the Tigers face a Volunteer defense built for speed and big plays. While not as strong up front at tackle as some Tennessee teams, the ends, linebackers and secondary personnel can run and rarely miss tackles. That means the Tigers have to be extra sharp if they hope to remain undefeated in SEC play heading to Arkansas next week.
"It's an opportunity for our team," Campbell said. "Come Saturday we're playing a real good team and we think we have a real good team ourselves. We just got off to a slow start. We just have to stay positive, stay within the system, stay confident and go out and have fun.
"We're just going to approach it as another real big game," Campbell added. "It's the SEC and it's one of the top contenders in the SEC playing against another top contender. We're looking at a game that we need to come out and play Auburn football. The last two weeks we've played Vanderbilt and Western Kentucky. I think those games were good for us. We just need to continue to play and get better everyday and not be happy about where we're at."