AUBURN, Ala. — Jonathan Wallace focused on what he needed to do for Auburn, rather than looking up to the stands for comfort.
No matter how the Central-Phenix City product played Saturday, he knew his parents and other fans in attendance would love him no matter what.
“I block a lot of things out during the game, because ultimately you want to have success,” Wallace said. “But it’s always good to have that support in the stands of them being there for you. It was really nice to see them after the game, all huddled up together.”
Family, including an uncle flying up from Texas, and close friends, including a former teammate at Central, came together to watch Wallace become Auburn’s fifth true freshman to start at quarterback.
“That was a lot of fun,” Wallace said, “being able to play for my city that’s not too far from here.”
Wallace started slowly, losing yards on his first designed run and getting picked off on a deep route looking for Sammie Coates in double coverage in a scoreless game.
“For a young guy to come in there in his first start, I am sure he will be very critical and hard on himself,” coach Gene Chizik said. “That’s the way he is, but just looking at it from the naked eye, I am very proud of the way that he performed.”
He finished 9-for-16 with 164 yards and a 40-yard touchdown to Trovon Reed, but at half he had just 50 passing yards and the offense led 7-0 over a hapless New Mexico State opponent.
“We can’t do that next week (against Georgia),” Wallace said. “We have to really work next week on coming out hot, ready, on fire, and going along with everything.”
Reliable tight ends can often be a security blanket for young quarterbacks, and Wallace had none this week. Senior Philip Lutzenkirchen was on the field using crutches after season-ending hip surgery, and he was joined by sophomore C.J. Uzomah, who according to a source broke his finger late in the week.
No active tight ends Saturday had registered a catch this year, leaving Brandon Fulse and Blake Burgess, primarily blockers, to handle the position.
“It cut down on some of our personnel, but some guys really stepped up this week,” Wallace said. “Brandon was the only true tight end we had this week, and he really stepped up to the plate this week and played very well.”
Since Auburn prevailed 42-7 — helped by more than 300 rushing yards — Tigers quarterbacks in their debuts improved to 8-2 since the Jason Campbell era in 2001.
“When we have a running game and the offensive line like we have,” Wallace said, “it makes a lot of things easier.”
Wallace did guide scoring drives of 89, 80, 96 and 77 yards.
“Jonathan Wallace is a big leader,” Reed said. “We all follow his lead. When he’s positive, we’re positive.”