Originally created 11/17/99

Leard gives Auburn a chance at sixth win



AUBURN, Ala. -- Tommy Tuberville sure is glad he doesn't believe everything he hears.

If the Auburn coach did, Ben Leard wouldn't be his quarterback and the Tigers wouldn't be one win away from becoming bowl-eligible.

Tuberville said Tuesday that when he first arrived at Auburn last November, everyone he talked to told him Leard wasn't a very good quarterback. For a while, he assumed it was true.

"Everyone said he needs to transfer, he can't play, he had lost his job," Tuberville said. "And I was darn near convinced."

Tuberville said Leard didn't do anything to make him think otherwise during the spring, partly because there wasn't an opportunity for him to do anything. Auburn spent most of the spring working on its running game and didn't spend too much time on passing.

Then, during preseason practices, Gabe Gross beat Leard out for the starting job.

But Tuberville replaced an ineffective Gross midway through the season-opener against Appalachian State and Leard came in to lead the Tigers to a comeback 22-15 win.

'He kind of got swept under the rug," Tuberville said. " Then we throw him out there against Appalachian State and he gets the job done."

Leard, a junior from Hartwell, Ga., has been Auburn's starter ever since. He missed three games -- all losses -- with a separated shoulder and one with a concussion, a win over Central Florida.

He returned to the lineup healthy last week against Georgia and stunned the Bulldogs by completing 24-of-32 passes for a school-record 416 yards. He tied another school record with four touchdowns passes and ran for a fifth in the Tigers' 38-21 win.

"He's got a good mind, he's mature and he's patient," Tuberville said. " And he doesn't get rattled too much. He was standing on the sidelines Saturday and he was holding in his emotions. He can do that because he's a little bit older, it's not his first rodeo."

Leard's performance helped the Tigers to their fifth win, one short of the requirement that would make them bowl-worthy.

Getting the sixth win won't be easy -- the Tigers (5-5, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) will have to beat No. 8 Alabama (8-2, 6-1) in Saturday's season finale. Alabama, by beating Mississippi State last week, needs to beat Auburn to win the SEC West.

"Coming off a big victory like we had, it gives us a shot in the arm to this game," Tuberville said. "Both wins (Alabama and Auburn's) made things a little more interesting. Even though it would have been interesting anyway, the wins put a little icing on the cake."

Tuberville is confident that Leard gives the Tigers a chance against Alabama.

In the games he's been healthy for, Leard has been near flawless and was even ranked No. 2 in the nation in passing efficiency before separating his shoulder in September.

Plus, Tuberville said, Leard gives the rest of the team an emotional boost.

"I think there is a direct correlation between him being back and the players having confidence," Tuberville said. "Everyone's attitude has gotten better and the tempo has been raised to some degree."