Scoring the first touchdowns of their careers, senior running back Michael Owens and junior wide receiver Jeris McIntyre were the emotional stars of a balanced and deadly offensive showcase in which the Tigers racked up 503 yards of total offense on the way to the victory.
"I was very excited," McIntyre said of his first quarter reception for a score. "That was my first career touchdown. I haven't been in the end zone since my high school days in Tampa. I was very excited. I was waiting and I want to thank Coach (Bobby) Petrino for giving me the opportunity on that play. It was a good feeling.
"Watching the film we knew we could take advantage of certain areas. We knew we would get some opportunities and some chances. We always want to start quick. We never want to let a team stay in it, that's what Coach Petrino emphasizes, us getting ready and jumping on a team early."
Not to be outdone, Owens got his name in the books in the second half. A highly touted running back from Deshler High in Tuscumbia, the fifth-year senior said this was something he wasn't sure would ever happen, but he's glad it did.
"I wondered if I really was going to get in the end zone," a smiling Owens said after the game. "I can stop wondering now because it happened and I'm happy...I was looking for a second one today, but hopefully I'll get one, especially against Alabama. We'll take them one at a time and focus on Georgia right now. If I don't have a chance to get another one, as long as I get the other boys in the end zone that's all that matters."
Running back Michael Owens breaks loose against the Indians defense.
While the first-team offense took the day off after the first series of the second quarter, it didn't stop quarterback Campbell from putting up some big numbers. Hitting 8-of-10 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns, the sophomore said it was important for his team to get off to a good start Saturday and that's what the Tigers did by throwing the ball downfield for big plays.
"We've been trying to do that over the last couple of weeks," Campbell said. "Last week we tried to throw some balls deep against Ole Miss and the week before that we tried to throw two against LSU. Coming in today we were basically trying to get our passing game and read our coverages. We just wanted to come out of the gates and take some chances downfield and see what we could hit."
Up front the Tigers played without center Ben Nowland, who was held out after being bothered by a sprained thumb suffered against the Rebels. That meant sophomore Danny Lindsey would get the start at center and true freshman Troy Reddick got the nod at guard. Starting two juniors, one sophomore and two true freshmen on the offensive line, Lindsey said the offense did exactly what they wanted to do on Saturday.
"I think it went okay," Lindsey said. "I haven't been there in so long. I think I can improve a lot on my technique at center because I haven't played there all year. We just wanted to come out, start out strong, and let as many people play as we could."
Defensively, the Tigers were without starters Reggie Torbor and Karlos Dansby but they accounted for themselves nicely after getting off to a slow start. Allowing the Indians to drive the length of the field on the opening series before coming up with a big fourth-down stop, senior cornerback Horace Willis said having some success playing a horde of young guys Saturday will pay off in the end for the Tigers.
"I think it was big because you never know what is going to happen," Willis said. "A player could go down on any play so to get the young guys in to play was important to show them what the tempo of the game was like. We're going to need them down the road because we plan on going a long ways."
One of the players that made the biggest impact on Saturday was redshirt freshman linebacker Travis Williams. With several tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble, the Spring Valley, S.C., native said following the game that he had a good time playing a lot of snaps again after being used mainly in mop-up roles for much of the season.
"It was real fun," Williams said. "I just wanted to go out and make plays and get the feeling again. I caused a fumble on a sack in the fourth quarter. They picked me up a couple of times and I had to get one before the night was over with."
Looking back on the game, Campbell said the highlight of his day was watching McIntyre celebrate his first career touchdown. Not overlooking the significance of Auburn's seventh victory of the season, Campbell said it was good to see guys excited about getting into the end zone no matter who the opponent is.
"He was so excited I saw him jump up to give one of our other players a handshake and fell," Campbell said. "He must have been pretty excited, but that's a good thing to see. When guys are real happy they have an opportunity to make plays. That's a positive sign and a confidence builder. Right now we're looking pretty good. We just want to continue to focus. We can't sit in a comfort zone or sit back; we really have to push forward now because it's like the playoffs coming up. It's like a one-game elimination and we have to come out and play hard these last two games."