Auburn chooses substance over style

AUBURN, Ala. -- Consistency isn't sexy. It's not a quarterback throwing bombs, or backs bursting into the secondary, linebackers in their wake.

Consistency is Mom telling you every day to clean your room. Every day. Consistency doesn't win Heismans or O'Briens. Consistency doesn't fit the SportsCenter bill.

But coaches chase consistency like Ahab wanted whale for dinner. You want to give a coach a compliment? Tell him his team is consistent. He'll smile like you just rolled over his contract.

They'll be showing No. 3 Auburn's 24-6 defeat of No. 5 Georgia in coaching clinics from now until UGA hikes his last leg. The offense never ran for more than 17 yards on any one play. The defense forced two turnovers in the red zone, and didn't give up a point until the game was out of reach. The kicking game set up a touchdown.

If the Tigers (10-0, 8-0) meant to send the nation a statement about their worthiness as a national championship contender, they knocked out a Gettysburg Address.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville won three national championship rings in eight seasons (1986-93) at Miami as an defensive assistant. He's seen some things. But even he hasn't seen anything like this.

"There were games at Miami," Tuberville said Saturday night, "when we threw the ball downfield. There were games when we ran the ball. I've never been around a team this consistent. Maybe we don't score a lot of points but we move the chains."

Consistency soothes the inner control freak of every coach. It is the lighthouse in the distance, easy to see, but a lot of oar strokes away. Auburn has rowed its boat to 10 consecutive victories.

"This is the most versatile offense I have seen at Auburn in 52 years," said retired Georgia coach and athletic director Vince Dooley, which included his junior and senior seasons (1952-53) as the Auburn quarterback. "You can't key on anybody!"

That's why, after the game, Auburn players could be found dancing on the wall in front of the student section in the south end zone. The band played and the giant AU flag swayed. Every alum looked 10 years younger and every girl was good-looking.

There's a reason the home portion of the 87,451 at Jordan-Hare Stadium chanted, "It's Great ... To Be ... An Auburn Tiger!"

This can't be a tough loss for Georgia (8-2, 6-2) to take. Disappointing, sure. But as coach Mark Richt, his team held to its fewest points in his 50 games in Athens, said after the game, "When you get beat like that, the only thing you can say is that you got whupped."

There's also a reason that Auburn can run and pass. Fifth-year quarterback Jason Campbell has become a master at reading defenses. Senior tailbacks Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and Ronnie Brown are as talented catching the ball as they are running it.

"Both me and Ronnie show a lot of things," Williams said. "We can catch out of the backfield. I feel like I can punt return really good. We showed we can do a lot of things other than run the football."

Brown caught a screen pass on the Tigers' first offensive play and took it 34 yards. He caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Campbell in the fourth quarter. He finished with 19 touches for 139 yards.

Williams carried the ball 19 times for 101 yards and a touchdown. He caught four passes for 20 yards. He returned four punts for 77 yards, including a 40-yard return that set up Brown's touchdown catch.

"Every week, we want to be able to run and pass," said offensive coordinator Al Borges."Certain games, you're going to be better doing one than the other. It surprises me after the game, sometimes, what we have to do to win. The key is the ability to do both, and do both efficiently. Your ability to do both, and do it with a little unpredictability, is your best shot."

The unpredictability came in the second quarter with the ball on the left hash of the Georgia 29-yard-line and Auburn trying to add to its 7-0 lead. Campbell pitched the ball to Williams, running to the right. The Tigers had run a couple of sweeps, and Georgia's safeties had reacted like Dobermans on Steak Night.

This time, as Williams ran, and the safeties raced toward him, wide receiver Anthony Mix slipped behind them.

"I've got to sell it for five steps," Williams said. "I looked up after selling it and this guy was about to hit me."

Williams took three more steps, waiting for Mix to get open. Williams leaped and threw with a defender in his belly. Mix caught the ball at the 10 and trotted into the end zone.

"He was amazing," Mix said, referring to Williams. "He stayed in there and took the hit. We've been talking about that pass all year."

The Tigers ran the play against LSU, with Campbell pitching to Brown, who's lefthanded. The play fizzled, and the next week, Borges gave Williams a chance.

"Carnell has a way of getting the ball there," Borges said. "He is never going to challenge Jason Campbell for quarterback duties."

Neither is anyone else. On the Tigers' second possession, Campbell threw two incompletions. The rest of the game, he completed 16-of-18 with one interception and one incompletion, which he threw away. He finished 18-of-22 for 189 yards.
Borges has been directing a campus production of My Fair Tiger since he arrived last winter, with Campbell in the lead role.

"When I first sat down with the kid, he told me he wanted to be a passer," Borges said. "He has run more in previous years. He is bent on proving he can throw the football. When I came and interviewed for the job, he was throwing the ball on the side, and I thought, 'Hey, this kid has a good arm.' Then I came here and watched the film. How many guys are 6-5, have a good arm and can move like that?"

The Tigers can run and they can throw. Their wide receivers won't scare anybody -- Campbell only threw four passes to them Saturday -- but with Williams and Brown, they don't have to. After the one gourmet moment, the halfback pass, Auburn returned to its meat-and-three offense. It's the consistency, stupid.

If the Auburn offense were a pitcher, it would be Greg Maddux, who can take his three pitches and make them look like 30. Williams and Brown can hurt a team in so many ways, and Campbell always seems to be in the right play. The Tigers still must play at archrival Alabama, and then they'll most likely see Tennessee again in the SEC Championship Game. That's two more chances to force their way into the top two and secure a spot in the FedEx Orange Bowl..

Tuberville spent the first few minutes of his press conference groping for words.

"As an old defensive coach," he finally, "I'd hate to play us."

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your question/comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com. Your e-mail could be answered in a future Maisel E-mails.