Confident Campbell Ready For Challenge

Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville and quarterback Jason Campbell talk about Auburn's challenge this week against Arkansas and the Tigers' injury situation.

Auburn, Ala.--When Auburn travels to Fayetteville this weekend to face the seventh-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks, most people will be watching to see how Auburn's defense fares against a strong Hog running game. That is an important part of the contest, but this weekend's game may well hinge on how junior quarterback Jason Campbell handles the game, both running and passing.

In the last two meetings, both won handily by Coach Houston Nutt's squad, the Tigers have committed six turnovers to just one for the Hogs. Those turnovers have been the difference in both games and led to big margins of victory despite Auburn having offensive success against the Hogs. Campbell said that he feels like this year he has a better grasp of the offense and is confident following three straight solid games on offense.

"I feel like I'm farther ahead this year because I've played a lot," Campbell said. "I've played a lot and seen a lot of defenses. The offensive linemen have seen a lot of fronts lately just because we run the ball and I think our passing game is what's helping our running game right now.

"We're throwing the ball successfully and that's making people play zone and not as much man and not put so many people in the box. That's helping us out right now."

Campbell loosens up for Wednesday's practice.

Something that Campbell has improved in tremendously is reading defenses and getting the Tigers in the right plays to be successful. Many times that is only evident in the passing game, but he said that the running game often hinges lots on his decision making. That was especially true against Tennessee last Saturday night when he checked several times to give Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown chances to make big runs.

"In the running game we did a lot of checking because they gave us different fronts," Campbell said. "You have to do a lot of checking and put us in a better running play. That's the thing that I talk about. People don't see that. They don't understand that a quarterback also makes run checks. It's not just how you are throwing the football, it's about how you manage the game and how you look at defenses to get your team in good offensive situations to make plays."

The offensive success the last three games is quite a difference from the beginning of the 2003 season when the Tigers struggled to even get the ball back to the line of scrimmage. Now more confident in what they are doing and executing better, Campbell said the offense has come together to make a run this season.

"We were missing things, missing the little things. Those little things kept us from being a good offense. I think everyone has come together. The offensive coaches and offensive players have come together. We're really united right now in what we're doing. We're feeding off each other."

Practicing for just over two hours on a muggy October Auburn evening, the Tigers continued working on the game plan for the Razorbacks. Coach Tommy Tuberville said he has been pleased with how the team has come back to work after Saturday's big win over Tennessee.

"It was a little hotter today," Tuberville said. "We're trying to get everybody back healthy. We're struggling a little bit, still a little beat up. The guys are working hard and the game plan is in. We just have to come back tomorrow and finish it up."

Monreko Crittenden works on his pass blocking during Wednesday's practice.

One of the big concerns heading into the weekend is Auburn's health. After being very healthy heading into last Saturday's game, the Tigers could be without several top players when they kick off early in Fayetteville. Starting cornerback Carlos Rogers did not practice for the second straight day after breaking bones in his thumb and is questionable for the game as is running back Ronnie Brown, who strained a hamstring in Saturday night's game. One certainty is that defensive end Jay Ratliff won't play against Arkansas because of an ankle injury suffered against Georgia Tech.

"Jay is out," Tuberville said. "Ronnie probably will practice tomorrow (Thursday). He's almost full speed, but we're not going to play him unless he's totally full speed. Carlos, they say he's going to come back and practice tomorrow. We'll just have to wait and see. He's still a little sore."

If Rogers can't go Saturday the starters at cornerback would likely be Kevin Hobbs and Junior Rosegreen with Montae Pitts and Lamel Ages getting some quality minutes. At safety that would put Will Herring at free safety with Donnay Young at strong safety and Karibi Dede, Roshard Gilyard and Andrew Letts all capable back-ups. If Brown is unable to go against the Hogs Tuberville said the combination of Brandon Jacobs and Tre Smith would handle to back-up tailback duties. With both of them having experience and capable of getting the job done, Tuberville said either could get the call depending on the situation in Saturday's game.

"Both of them will play," Tuberville said. "It's just a situation that we're in. Obviously, Tre is obviously a little better outside runner and Brandon is a little better inside runner."

The return of offensive tackle Marcus McNeill is also something of a concern this week. McNeill, who has been resting his back after playing the entire game against the Vols Saturday night, didn't practice on Wednesday, but should be ready to go on Saturday. Just like last week, the coaches aren't taking any chances with him and he'll likely play against Arkansas despite his missed practice time. Just in case they are working Monreko Crittenden at tackle with Danny Lindsey moving to guard and Jeremy Ingle at center.

The Tigers will practice Thursday and have a walk-through on campus Friday before leaving for Arkansas. Kickoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Central and can be seen regionally on Jefferson Pilot.

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