Mon, Jan 03, 2005 - Page 20 News List

Auburn's system depends heavily on blocking backs

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW ORLEANS

Al Borges, Auburn's offensive coordinator, stood on the 50-yard line at the Superdome on Saturday and pretended for a moment that he was Carnell Williams, the Tigers' All-American running back.

Borges then pointed to a spot two feet to his left. That is where the other Auburn running back, Ronnie Brown, is usually positioned in the Tigers' two-tailback attack.

"If that guy, Brown, decides, `Heck with it, I'm not blocking for this guy, Carnell,' this whole thing does not work," Borges said of Auburn's offense. "The reason these two-tailback systems fail is one guy won't block for the other. They're jealous."

The Tigers did not fail with their two-tailback system this season because Williams and Brown, both considered top-five picks in the 2005 NFL draft, did not become rivals for the spotlight.

Neither demanded to be the feature back, and their unselfishness has Auburn unbeaten (12-0) and ranked No. 3 heading into the Sugar Bowl on Monday night against No. 9 Virginia Tech (10-2).

"If one of them had come back and said, `I want to win the Heisman Trophy,' it would not have worked," said Tommy Tuberville, Auburn's coach.

Williams, who is 5 feet 11 inches and 210 pounds, uses his fast feet to dart through holes and whirl away from defenders. He ran for 1,104 yards in the first 12 games, and is nicknamed Cadillac.

Brown, who is 6-1 and 234 pounds, is fast and powerful, the kind of back who runs over defenders but can also catch the ball. He was Auburn's second-leading receiver with 34 receptions for 313 yards. He ran for 845 yards (6.1 yards a carry), and is nicknamed Hummer.

Combine the statistics of the Cadillac and the Hummer -- 1,949 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns -- and you have the best season for an Auburn running back.

The team's standard for a running back, using the traditional offense of one feature back, still belongs to Bo Jackson (1,786 yards, 17 touchdowns), the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner.

"We knew coming back for our senior year we had to share the ball and we were not going to win no kind of Heisman or make the all-American teams," Williams said. "We said, `Let's go out and win for this team.' If we play a big role of staying unselfish, it was going to work."

After Williams and Brown's junior season in 2003, they were projected as late first-round or second-round picks for the 2004 NFL draft. They talked between themselves, then with their families, and decided to return.

"People came at us from all directions saying, `If Ronnie leaves, you have to stay,' or telling us we can't both be in the same backfield," Williams said.

Brown said, "We knew it could work, because we're friends and we weren't going to be selfish."

Borges, who was hired last February to run the offense, has been the catalyst. He has endeared himself to Williams and Brown, as well as to Tuberville.

Brown and Williams boarded the team bus here this week to find Borges rocking back and forth in his seat to soul music. He wore a colorful shirt suited for the tropics, and the players agree that his personality is as playful as the shirt suggests.

"When I interviewed him for the job, it was important how he answered my question how he would build the offense to use both Ronnie and Carnell," Tuberville said.

Brown is built more like a fullback, but Borges would not beat up Brown by using him just as a sledgehammer into the line.

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