Auburn, Ala.--One thing is apparent through nine games of the 2006 football season and that is while Auburn is a good team and should win its ninth game of the season on Saturday against Arkansas State, it is still a long way from being great. Great is a word reserved for teams that dominate opponents like the 2004 Tigers did two seasons ago.
One of the players that is familiar with both teams is senior wide receiver Courtney Taylor. Auburn's second leading career reception leader with 142 and just eight behind Karsten Bailey, Taylor played a pivotal role in 2004. While he admits this team is good in its own way, it's not 2004 and things are different with every season and team involved.
"It's a different team," Taylor says. "We're not the same team we were in 04. I'm not saying that we're not any better than the 04 team because we are talented. We can compete just like the 04 team did but we're just a different team. We've got a different style. Every year you're going to have a different team. You're never going to have the same exact team every year. That's just my look at it. I feel like we're a different team than the 04 team."
Taylor is a big reason why Auburn's offense has shown improvement in the last two weeks.
A major difference between the two teams is the way things were done on the field. Led by Jason Campbell, Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown, Auburn's offense destroyed opponents early and put games away in the first half. This Tiger team hasn't been as powerful and has been forced to win close games time and time again. Taylor says that's something they hope to avoid this week against Arkansas State.
"That's one thing that Coach (Greg) Knox said to the receivers and he made a good point," Taylor says. "He said the difference between the 04 team and this team is that the 04 team handled business against teams they were supposed to put away. They didn't wait around.
"This team right now is kind of an identity game for us to go out and handle business. In the past we have struggled a little bit against teams we were supposed to put away but at the same time that goes back to the execution of all 11 players on offense and defense. I think, especially this week, that's going to be a main focus."
If Saturday is to be the kind of game Auburn and its fans are looking for then it's up to the offense to put up points early and often against a defense that has given up some points this season despite being good against the run. Taylor says coming off a good performance against Ole Miss has the offense brimming with confidence heading into the last three weeks of the season.
"That's exactly what I thought we would be this year," Taylor says. "We're clicking. It's like we're coming on strong and what better time than towards the end of the season especially with the three-game stretch we've got. We're coming on strong."
If the Tigers are fortunate enough to finish out the season with victories over Arkansas State, Georgia and Alabama then this season will be remembered for a team that did just enough to win. While it's not pretty Taylor says that label would be fine with him because it would mean the team got the most important thing right and that is winning.
"I'm a W type guy, I want to win," Taylor says. "It doesn't matter how we win but we're struggling at times. From an offensive standpoint we're moving the ball but we're just not getting touchdowns out of it for some odd reason. That's just a motivational factor for the whole offense in that we've still got room for improvement. We're no where near where we want to be."