AUBURN, Ala. – Jonathan Wallace got his bell rung. Remained down a couple moments, then rose a little woozy. Could’ve come out, talked to the trainer, with his team already leading by four touchdowns.
However, Auburn’s drive was extended by the careless personal foul Alabama A&M committed for illegal contact to Wallace’s head on an incomplete third-down pass. So the Tigers were awarded 1st-and-goal from the 9-yard-line with still 30 seconds left in the second quarter.
Instead of slinking over to the sideline, the precocious Wallace finished the drive and half he started, firing a touchdown dart to Sammie Coates on the very next play – the exclamation point of a 51-7 rout Saturday on Senior Day at Jordan-Hare Stadium before an announced attendance of 74,832.
“It felt great, actually. I don’t mind getting knocked around a little bit,” said Wallace, a freshman from Central Phenix-City now 2-1 as a collegiate starting quarterback. “It took a toll on me a little bit, but I just got to ice it up. It’ll be fine.”
Wallace flashed his grit and poise, but overall for the second time in three games was content in his role of game manager. He finished 10-for-18, passing for 171 yards and the one score. He also rushed five times for 22 yards, registering his first turnover-free start in three tries.
“He’s a little bit beyond his years when you talk about toughness and maturity for a young guy,” head coach Gene Chizik said. “Our players see that in him and really respect it. Our coaches see it and respect it.”
Wallace has taken several hefty shots this year, going back to his first appearance as a Wildcat quarterback on Sept. 22 against LSU. He continues to absorb hits in the pocket while delivering passes, like the 51-yard bomb to DeAngelo Benton that also drew a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty earlier in the second quarter Saturday.
That furthered a 91-yard touchdown drive, capped by fullback Jay Prosch’s second career short-distance touchdown.
“He always bounces back, and he does not want to come out of the game,” Chizik said of Wallace. “That (shows) how much football means to him, and how much it means for him to be out on the field.”
Wallace traded in his helmet for a baseball cap after senior Onterio McCalebb’s second rushing touchdown in the first minute of the fourth quarter, stretching Auburn’s lead to 42-7 over the overmatched Bulldogs (7-4), an FCS squad which had never before played any BCS conference members.
McCalebb and sophomore Tre Mason trotted out their two-headed monster attack once again, both going over 100 yards for the second time in three games. The pair combined for at least 188 yards in all four non-conference games.
Auburn rolled up 294 yards on its first 20 plays. For comparison, the Tigers have had less than 240 total yards against five SEC opponents.
“It’s the offensive line, of course,” Mason said. “Everyone did what they were supposed to do, and with them doing that we were able to execute plays.”
Mason’s 86-yard touchdown run was the seventh-longest offensive gain in school history, and Auburn’s longest run since Brent Fullwood went for 88 yards against Mississippi State on Oct. 25, 1986.
“I think he’s just gotten better as the season’s gone on,” Chizik said. “I thought the offensive line covered people up well enough today to give him some cracks and be able to run the ball. Tre has become a more physical runner. He’s playing with good vision and protects the ball.”
The Tigers outgained their guests 512-208. Auburn’s rush defense was as stout as its offensive teammates, smothering A&M into 22 yards on 25 carries. Former walk-on safety Trent Fisher made the most of Auburn’s first interception this season by a defensive back, bringing it back 60 yards for the game’s last touchdown.
Obviously, next week brings Auburn back to the reality of the SEC, where the Tigers are hoping to avoid their first 8-loss campaign in school history, and it’s a hated rival waiting for them. Auburn travels to No. 4-ranked Alabama (10-1) for the Iron Bowl, which hasn’t seen a 7-win differential between the rivals since 1950.
“No time to celebrate,” senior cornerback T’Sharvan Bell said. “Those guys down the road are the real deal. Everybody here knows it.”