PSU Offers Major Test, All-SEC Tiger Says

Senior center Ben Nowland discusses his final Auburn game, the Auburn offense, quarterback Jason Campbell and gives his take on the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Auburn, Ala.--Fifth-year senior center Ben Nowland has seen a lot of defenses in his time as an Auburn football player. Nowland says that Penn State looks to have one of the better ones he has encountered.

Nowland's Auburn Tigers will take on Penn State's Nittany Lions at noon CST on New Year's Day at the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla., at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium. A first team All-SEC pick, he will be one of the key's to success for the Tigers.

"They look good," Nowland tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "I mainly focus on the D-front. The two inside guys they have got will probably be the best two that we have seen all year long. Number 73, Kennedy (Jimmy Kennedy), is a mountain. He is 6-6, 330 and he can run from what I have seen on film. It is going to be a challenge up front, but it seems like we kind of like when we are challenged. It gives us something to work for."

Penn State brings a 9-3 record into the Capital One Bowl while Auburn is 8-4 after defeating Alabama 17-7 in the regular season finale. That Tide team was known for being very strong defensively. "I think they compare with Alabama in their size on the interior line," Nowland says of the Nittany Lions. "I think playing the Alabama game with the success we had definitely helped us out a little bit."

Ben Nowland

The Tigers played solid football down the stretch, a big change from 2001 when the Tigers slumped to close the season. Nowland says the 2002 team will go into its bowl game in a much more positive frame of mind than last year's team did at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. "That is definitely the case," he says. "Of course, we lost the same amount of games, but we didn't drop them all in a row right there at the end. We didn't just have a collapse in all aspects of the game.

"We had some disappointing losses, but I think that we grew as a team through those losses and we came back that next week and fought our tail off," Nowland says. "We were able to turn it around and not let the season slip out of our hands."

For Nowland, the trip to Orlando will be a short drive from his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. He and his teammates are scheduled to report to the team hotel, the Renaissance at Sea World, on Christmas Day. They will resume their practice schedule the next morning. "It makes it convenient for my family to go down there," Nowland says of this year's bowl location. "It allows me to spend Christmas morning with my mom. I am sure a lot of guys on the team won't get to spend Christmas with their families since we have got to report by four o'clock."

Ben Nowland prepares to snap the football to Jason Campbell.

Nowland has high hopes for a good offensive showing in Orlando. A major reason for that is the play of redshirt sophomore Jason Campbell, who Nowland says has really improved a "lot" from early in the year. "The main thing is his confidence," Nowland says. "That has improved a great deal. I think he's gained a lot of confidence. He's a tremendous athlete. He adds a whole new dimension to our offense in his ability to run the ball. That's great that he has that confidence. He can tuck it and run or make the throw.

"Last year, he seemed kind of like a deer in the headlights," Nowland says. "This year, he's really matured a lot and gained a lot of confidence. That is what he needed--that confidence. Hopefully, the line had something to do with that. I don't know how many sacks we gave up last year, but I'm pretty sure we probably cut it in half this year. I'm pretty sure that factored into him gaining confidence, just having time to throw the ball." Auburn gave up 18 sacks in 12 regular season games this year and 30 in 11 regular season games in 2001.

Tiger Ticket Extra: Nowland has already graduated with a degree in industrial design that he earned last December. He is attending Auburn as a graduate student. Before he pursues a career in that field, he may have more football in his future. Pro scouts have been checking out the 6-3, 294-pounder who started 32 games at Auburn. After the bowl game, he will continuing working out to get ready for an appearance in the Jan. 18th Senior Bowl all-star game in Mobile.

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