Auburn vs. Alabama: Auburn's Upset Chances Hinge on the Play of Jonathan Wallace
When the Iron Bowl kicks off on Saturday, November 24th, it will be 728 days since the Auburn offense has scored a point against the Alabama defense. In last year's Iron Bowl, Auburn scored its 14 points off of a forced fumble by the defense and a kickoff return for a TD by Onterio McCalebb.
That touchdown in 2010, of course, came from the arm of eventual Heisman trophy winner QB Cam Newton. TE Philip Lutzenkirchen was on the receiving end to complete a historic comeback inside Bryant-Denny Stadium.
That day, the Tigers counted on the leadership of 23 seniors as well as a Heisman and Outland Trophy winner to march into one of the most hostile environments in college football and come away with a win to keep their national title hopes alive.
Junior DT Jeffrey Whitaker recalls his first trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium two years ago. (via Coleman McDowell, AuburnSports.com)
"We came out for warmups, and I've never heard that many words that I can't repeat," Whitaker said. "They were directly at me. As an individual you felt like they pointed you out, and they let you know how they feel. It was awful. As a freshman, I'm going, 'Oh my god.'"
Auburn freshman QB Jonathan Wallace will be walking into that same atmosphere on Saturday. It will be his first road start as Auburn's QB.
The Tigers aren't asking much. They just need Wallace to play a lot more like that Heisman Trophy winner Auburn had two years ago than a freshman QB making his first road start. I hope you sensed the sarcasm.
Auburn's chances at a historic upset will hinge on how well Wallace can play Saturday against Alabama.
Statistically, Alabama is the SEC's best in the categories of scoring, rushing, passing and total defense.
Wallace sounds like he is up to the task. "It's really a blessing, I must say," Wallace said. "I'm very excited. I can't wait." (via Joel Erickson, AL.com)
The reason that Wallace must play well for Auburn to have a chance at an upset may be obvious. An offense is only as good as its QB plays—or as bad as its QB plays as we have seen with Auburn in 2012.
Wallace playing well Saturday is more of a necessity this weekend, though.
Where the stout Crimson Tide defense has shown a smidgen of vulnerability this year has been in its secondary. LSU QB Zach Mettenberger, who had been mediocre at best all season before playing the Tide, threw for nearly 300 yards against Alabama.
Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel threw for over 250 yards in Alabama's lone loss this season.
Don't misunderstand. Wallace has neither the throwing ability of Mettenberger nor the ability to extend plays like Manziel at this point in his career. It's not fair to compare the three right now.
He can throw and scramble better than any QB on the Auburn roster, though.
He can make up for the lack of both abilities with his head. Wallace must make good decisions if he is going to keep Auburn in this game.
He has to feel the pressure and not take a sack when the pocket collapses, which would put the Auburn offense in a long-yardage situation.
He must not force throws to receivers that are in double-coverage as he has a couple of times this year.
Wallace's success this year in his three starts came against New Mexico State and Alabama A&M. Against UGA, Wallace had most of his success after the game had already been decided. He went 15-of-22 for 181 yards and an interception.
The Auburn offense has been anemic this year, at best. At worst, it's been nearly impossible to watch.
Chances are that this offense will look much more like the latter than the former on Saturday.
Instead of being able to count on senior leadership and an insanely gifted athlete to pull out a win in Tuscaloosa like they did in 2010, the Tigers will count on Wallace—a freshman who did not even have a scholarship offer from Auburn until signing day last February. He wasn't even supposed to see the field this year, according to most.
Auburn's chances at a historic upset will hinge on Wallace. He will have to walk into a stadium of 101,821 screaming people. Most will be crimson-clad and will be yearning to see a beating of historic proportions put on Auburn.
All Auburn is asking is that Wallace play the game of his life.
Good luck, kid.
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