Al Borges came to Auburn last spring with a holster full of the West Coast offense, but don't think he's just going to be a pass-happy play-caller in the SEC.
Auburn's new offensive coordinator has devised a plan to play standout tailbacks Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown in the same backfield for the first time, and that means the Tigers will rely on their running while adding some juice to the passing.
It's an idea that's time had come. Williams and Brown are Auburn's two most productive players, but, because they play the same position, one has usually been on the bench. No more.
Borges lined them up in the same backfield all spring, and will do it again this fall. Nobody is arguing with that strategy, especially head coach Tommy Tuberville, who is just happy both tailbacks decided to stay for their senior seasons. That good fortune may be Tuberville's biggest recruiting coup in years.
Now, Borges can spruce up the passing game to take advantage of the speed and arm of senior quarterback Jason Campbell. Look for a quick-strike policy.
"I learned at a very early age in coaching that you've got to beat your opponent before he throws the punch," Borges said. "Otherwise, defenses will engulf you and they'll gain so much confidence that you can't move the ball. I think our kids have taken that to heart."
If experience counts, the Tigers' offense could click, the nation's No. 5 defense could hold its ground and peace could return to Auburn. The Tigers didn't end the 2003 season with much of that, once word got out that administrators took a trip to interview Louisville coach Bobby Petrino just days before the Alabama game. Auburn fans were so incensed that they kicked the university president out the door and forced the athletic director to announce his retirement.
Those fans, many of whom grumbled about Auburn's failure to live up to lofty preseason predictions, rallied around Tuberville, who came out of the mess with more popularity and power than ever.
OffenseTuberville is hoping Borges' offense will do something the old ones haven't -- complete passes across the middle and throw long.
Two years removed from their freshman hype, receivers Devin Aromashodu and Ben Obomanu will be looking for bounce-back junior seasons. One likely will back up the other. That leaves spots open for Courtney Taylor and Anthony Mix. Taylor was the second-best receiver on the team last year as a freshman and has the best stats of the returning receivers.
Auburn must replace two offensive linemen. Well, three if you consider the Tigers are moving starting center Danny Lindsey to right guard. The shakeup in the line is not expected to derail Auburn's running game, however, and the transition in the spring went without a hitch.
DefenseThe defense has been a paradox. It was ranked fifth in the nation in total defense, yet Auburn was outscored 80–14 by LSU, Georgia and USC.
Auburn must replace five of its front seven defenders, including the two best players in linebackers Karlos Dansby and Dontarrious Thomas. But the lone returning linebacker is special, linebacker coach Joe Whitt insists, and that's why he's predicting Travis Williams can put up Dansby-like numbers.
T.J. Jackson, a junior noseguard, will replace DeMarco McNeil, a four-year starter who clogged up the middle and allowed Auburn's linebackers to concentrate on making tackles.
Well-traveled junior college transfer David Irons won a starting cornerback job in spring practice. Irons should help improve a secondary that had just nine interceptions last year. Auburn had 21 in 2002.
SpecialistsKody Bliss was perhaps Auburn's most consistent player last season, which, considering he's a punter, says something about how things went. He's back, at least, and so are the place-kickers John Vaughn and Philip Yost. Problem is, they hit only 11-of-19 attempts.
Final AnalysisAuburn started last season with dreams of a national championship but lost its first two games and struggled against good SEC teams. That's one reason why the Tigers turned to Borges, whose track record at California, UCLA and Oregon made him an interesting choice. His style of play is different from most SEC teams, and that could cause defenses some problems. Unlike the past few years, the offense may have to carry an inexperienced defense early. An easier schedule -- the Tigers traded USC and Georgia Tech for Louisiana-Monroe and The Citadel -- also promises to help the cause.