Fresh Start Good For Borges And Tigers

Coach Al Borges talks about his first season at Auburn and why this offense has been so successful.

Auburn, Ala.–-One year ago at this time Coach Al Borges was at Indiana and suffering through a 1-6 start on the way to a 2-10 season. How times have changed for a coach that says he's just fortunate to be in this situation.

Borges is now the offensive coordinator for one of the hottest teams and offenses in the country. Averaging 34.4 points and 447.6 yards per game, Auburn is up to number three in the country in the AP Top 25 poll and is expected to be ranked high in the first Bowl Championship Series rankings that come out on Monday. Borges says the promise of a new day in Auburn is one of the reasons he was first interested in the job.

"I thought this team had a real chance," Borges says. "I said it from the beginning. I wouldn't have taken this job if I didn't believe it did. We've got some talented kids that are very capable and were ready to break out. They are starting to do that now."

Jason Campbell is leading the SEC in passing efficiency.

One of the main reasons the Auburn job was so appealing was the possible return of both Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown for this season. That wasn't made final until Borges had already taken the job, but his plan for using both players had an impact on their decisions. The plan has become a reality this season as both players have bought into Borges' system fully and have been an integral part of a 7-0 start in 2004.

"It has been amazing," Borges says. "Between the two of them, the way we have it set up it's going to be hard for one back to rush for 200 yards. That's not the way it is. We're trying to divide their time and guys ask, 'How come Carnell isn't gaining more yards?' Well, he's not going to get the ball as much because Ronnie is getting the ball some and we're throwing the ball some.

"What we've tried to turn it into is total team effort, whatever it takes to win. Part of that is blocking and they've been great about picking up the blitz and showing a willingness to step up there and strike those blitzing linebackers. Eddie Gran has done a great job of coaching up our blitz pick-up responsibilities and those kids just don't make a lot of mistakes. That's simply because they've played a lot and he's done a good job of training them."

In addition to the running back tandem, Auburn also had veteran quarterback Jason Campbell back along with a bevy of talented but underperforming receivers. Borges says that he felt like this team could do some special things and seeing that he was right has become a wonderful experience.

"After what I have been through the last few years, it's just such a great feeling to be in a situation where you have a chance to win some games," he says. "That's all I say. It's just great to know that now your coaching makes a difference. That's the ultimate nightmare when you coach as hard as you can and do all the things you need to do and still go out and have no chance to win. That's tough."

Having talent at so many different spots is not foreign to the veteran coach. Just six seasons ago he directed one of the most prolific offensive teams in college football with quarterback Cade McNown at the helm. In 1998 the UCLA Bruins were the hottest offensive team in the land and Borges says this Auburn team reminds him a great deal of that special group.

"Very similar," he says. "We're throwing and running with about the same ratio. McNown was number one in the country in pass efficiency that year and Jason is right up there. We had two backs that could really put a hurt on you and we've got two here that can really put a hurt on you. Our receivers back then with Freddie Mitchell, Brian Poli-Dixon and Danny Farmer were making plays week after week. The difference is that back then the games were closer because we weren't as strong defensively as we are here. We had more nail-biters."

A key for both the Bruin team and this season's Auburn team is getting off to a good start. On Saturday Auburn scored on its first five possessions on the way to a 30-0 lead against Arkansas. Borges says that this Auburn team has that special something that allows the Tigers to start strongly.

"I have preached the same thing forever," Borges says. "We always talk about beating teams to the punch. I have done that and still had teams that didn't get off to fast starts. I think you come out and if you're mentally ready to play I think you'll do a better job. Some teams, no matter what you tell them, aren't mentally ready. These kids seem to be focused."

Ronnie Brown has been effective this season as a runner and receiver in Auburn's West Coast offense.

Auburn now awaits Monday's announcement of the BCS standings. The Tigers are likely to be third or fourth in the opening poll. That's something Borges is familiar with because the 1998 UCLA team was number one in the first poll on the way to a Rose Bowl berth.

Although he is a big reason for Auburn's success to this point, Borges says he wants the credit to go to the players.

"When I was 30 or 35 years old I would be wallowing in it," Borges says of the increased attention. "It would probably affect my judgement. But, at 49 years old and going through the ups and downs that I have and knowing that success could be an imposter, I just try not to take this stuff too seriously.

"I know the reality of it is that we've got some good players that can make you look smart. I have played with bad players with the same plays and the same play-calling that made me look dumb. I'm a realist more than an idealist. I just take it all with a grain of salt."

Borges and the Tigers will return to the practice field on Tuesday as Auburn looks to run its record to 8-0 as Kentucky is next on the schedule when the Wildcats visit for a 1:30 p.m. Saturday kickoff.


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