Auburn once again cruising behind Cadillac

Updated: October 6, 2003, 7:10 PM ET

AUBURN, Ala. -- Carnell Williams was on fire. Or maybe he was possessed or just crazy, a dynamo darting around the field, breaking tackles and sending his Auburn teammates searching for the right words.

They meant all those things in a good way.

Williams rushed for 185 yards, caught two key passes, returned a kick 31 yards, scored a touchdown and generally dominated the game with Tennessee -- much like he used to before his second straight season-ending last year.

"He looked like the old Carnell," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said.

The preseason All-Southeastern Conference tailback said he finally shed any lingering fears about last year's surgically repaired left leg, broken against Florida. He looked quicker and more confident than he had all season in the Tigers' 28-21 victory.

"I just hit that zone," Williams said. "Things were just rolling. It felt good."

Williams piled up a career-high 232 all-purpose yards, getting 133 rushing yards after the first hit and nearly doubling his total through the previous four games to earn SEC offensive player of the week honors.

It was his first 100-yard effort of the season, and Auburn looked like a different team with the return of the "old Carnell."

Williams still has about a 3-inch scar just above his left ankle, but the mental scars healed against Western Kentucky. He took a hit right on the spot and was OK. One less thing to worry about.

"I was running kind of timid," said Williams, whose freshman season ended with a broken collarbone. "On Saturday, I just laid everything on the line. And from here on out, that's my attitude. I'm just going to let everything hang out."

This was the kind of endurance challenge the player nicknamed Cadillac is known for, rivaling his 40-carry day against Syracuse last season and the 41-rush marathon against Georgia as a freshman.

Not coincidentally, Auburn won all three games.

The Tigers (3-2, 2-0 SEC) play at No. 7 Arkansas (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday, taking a renewed confidence and the vintage Cadillac into the meeting of two Western Division contenders. He's gained 276 yards in losses to the Razorbacks the past two seasons.

Williams' best outing of the year had been an eight-carry, 71-yard effort against Western Kentucky when he hit the bench early in a blowout victory.

Then came the Volunteers, the team he once planned to play for.

Williams nearly reached that total in the first quarter, running for 66 yards and getting a 10-yard reception. His teammates sensed the difference.

"He was unstoppable," offensive tackle Marcus McNeill said. "Carnell had that fire in him and it was scary. He had more enthusiasm than I'd ever seen from him. He kept saying he was on fire. Nobody really disagreed with that."

"It seems like he was possessed with something," quarterback Jason Campbell said. "He's out there running and jumping up and down talking about he's going crazy."

Guard Mark Pera said he's never seen Williams run better.

"Carnell was unbelievable," Pera said.

Williams said he hadn't entered that proverbial zone since last year's Syracuse game, when he gained 202 yards.

"It's something you can't explain," he said. "I'm sure backs that have been in the zone know what I'm talking about. The game just kind of slows down and you're much faster than everybody else, it seems like. You're going full-speed and they're going slow-mo."

Even with the dazzling performance Williams has a modest 402 yards, fifth in the SEC. He was leading the league early last season before going down against Florida.

Williams is the centerpiece of a four-man rotation that is finally living up to its billing. Ronnie Brown rushed for 65 yards against the Vols before straining a hamstring. Brandon Jacobs and Tre Smith both were productive in limited action.

Jacobs, who didn't have a carry in the first two games, totaled 171 yards against Vanderbilt and Western Kentucky. Smith had two touchdowns in each game.

No wonder Eddie Gran is such a happy man.

"Everyone asked me the question: `What are you going to do with four running backs?" the running backs coach said. "Well, y'all saw it (Saturday) night.

"We've got a bunch of games left, and thank God we've got this group of guys. Out of 117 schools out there, they'd love to be in our situation right now. It's all going to work out."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index