- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 3, 2004

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Color Knoxville burnt orange.

No. 8 Auburn administered a merciless thrashing of 10th-ranked Tennessee at Neyland Stadium last night, turning the matchup of undefeated SEC teams into a laugher by halftime. Led by maligned senior quarterback Jason Campbell, the Tigers (5-0, 3-0 SEC) scored on five of their six first possessions en route to a 34-10 domination of the stunned Volunteers.

Auburn’s decimation of the Vols (3-1, 1-1) came just hours after No.3 Georgia throttled defending national champion LSU 45-16 in Athens. The two league powers will meet in Auburn on Nov.13 in a game that could have major national title implications.

Just as they did last year in a 28-21 victory over Tennessee on the Plains, the Tigers absolutely owned the line of scrimmage. But unlike last season’s meeting, which was defined by Campbell handing the ball to Heisman hopeful Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, Campbell was the major protagonist in last night’s beating.

The 6-foot-5, 228-pounder, who has long been labeled the weak link in an Auburn offense focused on the mega-talented tailback tandem of Williams and Ronnie Brown, authored the half of his career to stake the Tigers to an insurmountable 31-3 lead.

Last season both Campbell’s decision-making and accuracy were constantly criticized. Opposing defenses routinely stacked the line to stop the run, daring Campbell to beat them. And he responded by struggling to a 10-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio, looking hapless in lopsided losses to USC, Georgia Tech, LSU and Georgia.

But last night, when the Vols loaded the box to stop the run, Campbell was in command of the Auburn offense. Dissecting the Tennessee defense with a mix of quick slants and screens, liberally complemented with downfield lasers off play action. He finished the half 12 of 15 for 240 yards for two touchdowns and no interceptions. Campbell had not passed for 200 yards in any of Auburn’s first four games this season.

“It feels awful fine,” said Campbell, whose tight end Cooper Wallace dropped a sure touchdown pass in the first quarter. “I guess it would be my best performance, but this is a team game and this was a team win. To come in here with all these people and beat a team that has this kind of tradition is a major win.”

Campbell’s first touchdown toss came on a 5-yard slant to junior wide receiver Ben Obomanu with 17 seconds left in the first quarter, giving the Tigers a 14-3 lead. Later he hit Courtney Taylor on a crossing route for a 31-yard touchdown to push the lead to 31-3 with 52 seconds left in the half. Auburn’s 31 first-half points were the most by a Tennessee opponent in a half since Florida touched the Vols for 35 points in a 35-29 victory in 1996.

Williams and Brown didn’t disappoint, despite Campbell’s career night. Brown had the game’s first score just five minutes in when he sprinted nine yards through the middle of the Tennessee defense before bulling over All-SEC safety Jason Allen at the goal line. Williams had his share of fun as well, leading the Tigers with 95 yards on 24 carries. And just in case Allen hadn’t received Brown’s opening-drive message, Williams shouldered him into submission on his way into the end zone in the second quarter.

“They couldn’t stop us last year, and they couldn’t stop us this year,” said Williams, who now carries his Heisman campaign home for three consecutive games on the Plains (Louisiana Tech, Arkansas and Kentucky). “But this one probably hurts them more, because we put it on them in their house.”

And never has the SEC’s big house been so quiet. A sizable number of the 107,000-plus in attendance left at halftime, as Tennessee’s defense crumbled and its first-year quarterbacking combo of Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer played like freshmen for the first time this season.

Ainge, who entered the game as the SEC’s highest rated passer and the No.4-rated quarterback nationally with 505 yards passing and an 8-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, completed just 17 of 35 passes for 173 yards and threw four interceptions. Schaeffer was one of five and also added a pick.

“I don’t really think you can put this one on Erik and Brent, because they didn’t get a lot of help out there,” said Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer. “Sure, we didn’t get anything going at all offensively. But we didn’t stop them either. It was a painful learning experience for all of us. But we are a very young football team, and we don’t have any time to lick our wounds with Georgia in Athens next week.”

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