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His right foot soaking in a bucket of ice water, Jason Campbell sat on a folding chair in the training room at Jordan-Hare Stadium 90 minutes after Auburn's 10-9 win over defending national champion LSU. Most of his teammates had long since scattered into the cool Southern night, but the quarterback lingered, face aglow, reliving the two most important plays of his football life as he nursed a sprained toe.
"The guys on the team know that I've taken a lot of unfair criticism over the years," said Campbell, a fifth-year senior who completed 16 of 27 passes for 170 yards against LSU. "Those two plays in the fourth quarter say a lot about my character and the team's character."
With 3:07 left in the game Auburn trailed 9-3 and faced a fourth-and-12 on LSU's 28. The 6' 5", 223-pound Campbell had incurred the wrath of fans the past two seasons because of his flameouts in big games (see: Georgia in 2002, USC and Ole Miss in '03), but after Auburn took a timeout, Campbell trotted into the huddle as if he were the one who had won the national title last year, announcing, "We're going to get this!"
"When I heard Jason say that," said sophomore wide receiver Courtney Taylor, "I knew it was our time."
Campbell rolled to his right and, just before he was flattened by two defenders, sidearmed a pass to Taylor for a 14-yard gain. Three plays later, with 1:14 remaining, Campbell rifled a 16-yard strike to Taylor, who had slipped behind the defense in the end zone. As the largest crowd ever to watch a football game in Alabama (87,451) cheered thunderously, Auburn assumed the driver's seat in the SEC West.
"Jason is a lot better than people give him credit for," said offensive coordinator Ron Borges. "If you give Jason time to throw, he'll hit the target."
Borges's version of the West Coast offense takes advantage of Campbell's superb athletic ability with a mix of rollouts, bootlegs and options. Under Borges's tutelage Campbell has become both a more daring and a more accurate midrange passer, as was evident on the two plays that may well define his career on the Plains.
"I finally feel like I'm in an offense that fits me," said Campbell in the afterglow. "Hopefully, this is just the start of great things for us."