AUBURN, Ala. — That’s all Auburn’s got left, at 1-7. The love of the game.
It’s cruel to say there’s nothing to play for, because you know Jonathan Wallace and Tre Mason and Joshua Holsey and others will leave it all on the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium, whether it’s New Mexico State or Las Cruces High, whether it’s Alabama or the New England Patriots.
No one knows exactly how Wallace, who was finishing up his high school career at Central-Phenix City this time last year, will perform in his first quarterback start as a collegian. We can safely assume his effort will be A-plus, because that’s all he knows.
Holsey, too. He’s raw at the cornerback position, and along with roommate Jonathan Jones (also thrown into the mix prematurely), they’ll need to hit the weight room in the offseason. But their desire hasn’t waned, because that’s the great thing about true freshmen — they’re just out there having fun.
That’s what it’s all about these final four weeks. Personal pride, having fun and making the most of this home stretch.
Assorted bad luck and injuries have wreaked havoc with the starting lineup, for sure. Only four offensive players (receiver Emory Blake and linemen Greg Robinson, John Sullen and Chad Slade) and three defenders (defensive end Corey Lemonier, linebacker Daren Bates and safety Jermaine Whitehead) have started every game.
Blake, Sullen, Lemonier and Bates are proud veterans unlikely to lose their jobs. Robinson, Slade and Whitehead are youngsters, and they’re safe too.
Juniors Jay Prosch (fullback) and Demetruce McNeal (safety) aren’t going anywhere. Sophomore center Reese Dismukes missed one game to suspension and one to injury, but he’ll keep starting so long as his arm doesn’t fall off.
The other 12 spots? Look for more and more kiddies to join the fray. They’ve been filtered in over the past couple weeks, and it’s bound to continue with postseason eligibility officially out the window.
Wallace replaced sophomore Kiehl Frazier and junior Clint Moseley. Mason grabbed the gig from senior Onterio McCalebb. Freshman middle linebacker Cassanova McKinzy has taken over for junior Jake Holland. Sophomore defensive tackle Gabe Wright (Carver High) is in for Jeffrey Whitaker, out with a mystery injury. Holsey and Jones will continue to start along with nickel Jon Mincy, so long as junior Chris Davis has concussion symptoms.
Freshman Patrick Miller’s sticks around at right tackle — for better or worse. With senior tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen tending to his hip, sophomore tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse trade off starts — or even both start, as they did last week in place of slot receiver Quan Bray.
At what point does the youth movement totally sweep the Tigers?
Is it fathomable Blake sees his reps decrease for Ricardo Louis and Jaylon Denson, or Lemonier sits out for LaDarius Owens, Devaunte Sigler or Justin Delaine?
Could the coaches shut down Sullen and take the redshirt off Alex Kozan? Could they actually bench Bates, the SEC’s third-leading tackler, and make it Kris Frost’s time?
This is all conjecture. Because we don’t know who’s All In, and who’s checked out.
That this coaching staff might not be here in 2013 makes it more complicated.
Without making a blanket statement, it sure seems many freshmen and sophomores (and Prosch) — guys who don’t have a championship ring — are generally hungrier than the juniors and seniors.
It’s hard to see Auburn starting only one or two seniors in the Iron Bowl three weeks from now. But it’s not impossible.
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
And in this position, you play the guys who are desperate to play.
Aaron Brenner, email@example.com