Improved Play Contagious, Receiver Says

Auburn, Ala.–-When the talk of last year's Auburn-<!--Default NodeId For Ole Miss is 71056,2004--><A HREF=>Ole Miss</A> football game takes place, invariably the name <!--Default NodeId For Ben Obomanu is 1426976,2004--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:1426976]>Ben Obomanu</A> comes up in the conversation. One year ago he dropped a would-be game winner against the Rebels in a Tiger loss in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Unlike many in his situation, Obomanu didn't hide from the criticism following the game. Instead, the young sophomore held his head high, said he should have made the catch and answered questions about the play despite the disappointment that was so obvious on his face. While the experience was a learning one for Obomanu, the people that may have learned even more in the face of that adversity were his teammates.

Fellow wide receiver Courtney Taylor says that particular day, he believes, was a turning point for Obomanu and the Auburn program as a whole.

"We watched him and saw the way he came back out and kept getting better," Taylor says. "Just to see a man, when he's down, get back up and get better, that just shows everybody on the team his commitment. We all grew together from that and learned.

"With Ben, he's probably one of the most confident guys I know," Taylor adds. "Last year really hurt him, but we're his teammates and we rallied around him. Ben doesn't really dwell on the past, he always looks forward. That is something that happened. It happened, but it's time to move on. It's a new season and we're doing good. We really don't even care about that. It's in the past and this is a new year."

Taylor catches a pass in traffic against Arkansas.

With a new year comes a new set of challenges and this Auburn team has answered the bell to each one through eight games. Saturday night will be another test as the Ole Miss Rebels hope to knock off the Tigers and put an end to their undefeated season.

Strong play from the wide receivers has been a key to Auburn's success this season. For the year Auburn is passing for just over 230 yards per game, up from 192 yards in 2003. A big reason for that is that the receivers are catching the ball consistently after a year of drops in 2003. Taylor says that confidence is a big difference this year and it begins in practice where the receivers compete each day for top honors.

"I believe it rubs off," he contends. "I believe if a guy sets an example and just shows a lot of confidence that it's going to rub off on the whole group. We have a catch-drop chart and we compete every week. I have probably won over half of the catch-drop things, but now you see those guys we're competing and just waiting for a guy to drop a ball in practice.

"That's just how competitive we are and, of course, that carries over into a game. It's not to the point that we want to outdo each other, but we're competitive so we can talk about it later. Just being competitive, I feel like that's what has really helped this group out."

One of the best areas of the Auburn offense this season has been third down production. Last year the Tigers converted 36 percent of the time. Under new offensive coordinator Al Borges, things have been quite different this year as Auburn is now up to 48 percent through eight games. Taylor says that there is not really a secret to this year's success, other than just making plays when the time comes.

"I guess, basically, it's being in the right place at the right time," Taylor says. "In Coach Borges' offense, it's so precise with alignments and depth and yardage, it's basically being in the right place at the right time and have Jason (Jason Campbell) count on you being in that place. If it's third and long or third and short, being in those places that we practiced all that week on and just making a play."

Jason Campbell is a strong candidate for All-SEC honors this season.

While a win in Oxford would be special for everyone on the team because of its importance in clinching a spot for the Tigers in the SEC Championship Game, there is little doubt that Campbell would enjoy it as much as anyone. On the receiving end of some criticism, Campbell is having a renaissance this season. The SEC's leader in passing efficiency and having led Auburn to 10 straight wins, Campbell is the leader and man for Auburn. Taylor says the Mississippi native is what this team is all about and they're hoping to follow him to the promised land.

"Off the field he's a great guy," Taylor says. "A lot of people say he really doesn't talk that much, but I'm like, ‘Jason talks more smack that anybody I know.' It's not to the point where he's real vocal though. He'll call us up to go to the movies and we'll go. It's just about him being positive. I don't even see him out much. That just shows his leadership. He's not trying to be out in the clubs and I've never seen him drink a thing. Just being that positive on everybody else, you know in your quarterback that you have a man you can count on."

Taylor and the Tigers will face the Rebels at 6:45 p.m. on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

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