Offense Matures In Music City

Auburn's offensive coordinator and head coach discuss the Tigers' first road victory of the 2001 season.

Nashville, Tenn.--Normally 6.8 yards per offensive play would lead a team to a win in anSEC football game, but Saturday night it nearly took more than that for the Auburn Tigers to squeak by the Vanderbilt Commodores 24-21 and remain undefeated in conference play.

One of the reasons the Commodores were able to stay close was a continuous flow of penalties and mistakes by the young Tiger offense. One very interested observer said the Tigers can't have those kind of problems week in and week out and expect to be a good unit down the road.

Jason Campbell takes a snap from Danny Lindsey

"Last week we had this little problem with turnovers that really killed a lot of drives," offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said following Saturday's game. "This week it was penalties. We did a better job of protecting the football. It just seemed like every drive we would get something going and there was a holding call or this or that. The kids just have to learn to grow up and they've got to learn that you can't have those things and be consistent on offense."

A player who grew up right before Mazzone's and everyone's eyes was quarterback Jason Campbell. Struggling in the first half with bad option pitches and missed receivers, Campbell settled in after the break and was particularly impressive late in the game when the Tigers needed big plays to stay ahead of the Commodores. He finished the game 17 of 24 passing for 247 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions, easily his best performance of the season.

Tight end Robert Johnson celebrates after catching a touchdown pass from Campbell.

"I thought the first half he was really pressing, not really in sync," Mazzone noted. "I was really proud of him and we had Danny Lindsey at center and him (Campbell) and Carnell (Williams) and Casinious (Moore) in the backfield so we had a lot of young guys right there in the middle. I thought Jason came out in the second half and kept getting better with every series."

Coming off the humbling experience last weekend at Syracuse where the offense turned the ball over five times, it wasn't surprising to see Campbell and the rest of the offense play a little hesitantly against the Commodores. Noticing that his young quarterback wasn't performing to his potential, Mazzone said he told Campbell to turn it loose in the second half.

"In the first half I got the feeling he was trying to not make mistakes instead of trying to make plays," Mazzone said said. "I think the second half he came out and said, ‘The heck with it'. I told him just to take the good with the bad--‘you go out and just play the game, you gotta make plays for us'. I think he came out and made some good plays for us the second half."

While Campbell handled himself admirably in the win, the running game left a lot to be desired for most of the night. With starter Ronnie Brown missing with a shoulder strain, a leg problem and a sore foot, that meant more playing time for the freshman standout Williams along with Moore. Although Moore struggled at times to sift through the Vandy defense, Williams provided the spark that the coaches and fans alike had been waiting for since his arrival in August. With six carries for 56 yards and two touchdowns, Williams may have earned himself much more playing time in the future.

"He's still not 100 percent on his ankle but he's getting better," head coach Tommy Tuberville said following the game. "With Ronnie being down, we knew we were going to have to have him for this long stretch coming up, we're going to need all our running backs. But Carnell is getting better and better. He's learning the offense more. We still made a ton of mistakes though."

The Tigers begin the corrective process on Sunday afternoon with a short practice focusing mainly on fundamentals. The team will then have Monday off before it begins serious preparations for the Mississippi State Bulldogs who come to Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday for a 6 p.m. kickoff.

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