Campbell blossoms in Borges' offense

Originally Published: November 12, 2004
By Chris Low | Special to ESPN.com

How fitting that Jason Campbell's favorite musical group is The Temptations.

From the time Campbell stepped foot on campus at Auburn, opposing defensive coordinators have tempted the senior quarterback to beat them.

Campbell jokes that he can almost recite the conversations in various defensive meeting rooms around the Southeastern Conference.

Let's force Campbell to make us adjust, not Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown.

If we can put Campbell in a position where he has to throw, he'll unravel.

Bring the heat because he can't stand it.

"I've heard it all," Campbell said. "Ever since I've been here, it's been like that. It's almost like I was the forgotten man at quarterback. People would say, 'Make Jason Campbell beat you.' I knew my opportunity was going to come. I just had to stay relaxed, positive and humble.

"I just kept telling myself that it was all going to come at the right time."

That time is now -- as in this weekend when Georgia visits the Plains in the SEC's glamour showdown of the season -- and there's not a player in the conference who's meant more to his team's success than Campbell.

He's made clutch throws (see LSU). He's taken teams out in the first half (see Tennessee). He's dissected teams with his precision (see Arkansas).

And, yet, his greatest attributes have been his consistency and presence. Once branded as the guy who couldn't wait to tuck the ball and take off running whenever he felt pressure, Campbell has climbed to third nationally in passing efficiency.

He's thrown 14 touchdown passes and only three interceptions and is completing 65.9 percent of his passes. His sparkling 172.8 rating has thrust him into college football's most esteemed fraternity of quarterbacks.

Not even California's Aaron Rodgers, Oklahoma's Jason White, Purdue's Kyle Orton, Southern Cal's Matt Leinart or Georgia's David Greene can match Campbell's efficiency this season.

"He is more poised than I think he was in the past," Georgia safety Thomas Davis said. "He doesn't get rattled, and he's being the leader they need."

Auburn, ranked third nationally and nipping at the heels of Oklahoma and USC for the all-important top two spots in the BCS standings, has genuinely become Campbell's team.

He's not the most talented player, maybe not among the top five most talented players on the team. But he's clearly the most valuable and would also get his share of votes for most improved.

Just don't tell that to Campbell, who finished with 10 touchdown passes and eight interceptions a year ago.

His choices for MVP, in order, are Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges and the Tigers' defense as a whole.

"The biggest difference in this team was getting Coach Borges in here," said Campbell, who's flourished in Borges' version of the West Coast attack. "He's opened up things for everybody.

"This is the kind of offense I always wanted to be involved in, an offense that's so balanced with multiple formations, different pass routes, different runs and an emphasis on getting the ball to the running backs. I feel comfortable in this offense. I feel at home."

Who could have blamed Campbell if he were muttering to himself, "Here we go again," after Tommy Tuberville went out and got Borges from Indiana this past February?

Borges was the fourth different offensive coordinator in as many years for the Tigers, prompting Campbell to do his own research.

"I didn't know much about him, so I started reading up on him," Campbell said. "I found out he coached Cade McNown at UCLA and Kyle Boller at Cal, and that picked me up."

It was also about that time that Campbell happened to catch the 1998 Miami-UCLA game on ESPN Classic.

"I realized who the UCLA offensive coordinator was in that game and really got excited," Campbell said.

Two weeks into practice, Campbell was a total convert. He still remembers a conversation he and Williams shared following the Tigers' second major scrimmage.

"Carnell looked at me and said, 'Man, this offense fits us perfectly and will help move people out of the box and take pressure off of everybody,' " Campbell recalled. "He was right because we're always changing and are never in the same formation.

"The main thing is that we're balanced. It used to be that balance around here meant we'd run the ball on first down, run the ball on second down and throw it on third down. That makes it really hard on the quarterback.

"Now, you never know when we're going to throw the ball."

Borges said the reason the Tigers have been so balanced goes back to Campbell and his ability to find the soft spots in opposing pass defenses.

"He's committed himself to being a passer," Borges said. "When I came here, we sat down and said, 'We're going to do all we can to make you a good passer. That's really where you're going to help this team win. You run for yards, but you throw for miles.'"

Campbell thinks the Georgia defense will be the Tigers' stiffest test yet. By his count, they have seven or eight players who will play in the NFL.

"Just look at the playmakers they have and the way they run to the ball," Campbell said. "We need to be as sharp as we've been all season."

Campbell's of the mind that this Auburn offense still has another gear, and the Tigers may need it Saturday. But one thing's for sure. The guy that everybody once said couldn't beat you ... is beating you.

And that's not just your imagination.

Chris Low covers the SEC for The Nashville Tennessean.

Chris Low | email

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