AUBURN, Ala. — Jonathan Wallace’s production in three starts has been mostly predictable.
The true freshman quarterback was an efficient game manager in blowouts of New Mexico State and Alabama A&M, but overmatched against mighty Georgia.
Regardless, the Central-Phenix City product continues to impress the coaching staff with his poise and precocious learning curve.
“He’s just come light years since he got here, throwing the football,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik raved Sunday. “He’s gotten rid of the ball quicker than I expected him to. He’s made decisions quicker than I expected him to. He’s gotten himself out of harm’s way sometimes because of that.
“He just makes a decision and he goes with it. It’s not always the perfect throw, but he’s made quick decisions and (shown) the element of toughness.”
Whereas older quarterbacks Kiehl Frazier and Clint Moseley struggled with vocal leadership, Wallace has steadily taken on that role in his first month as a starter.
“As a quarterback, you earn trust from the guys in terms of how you play and how you lead and how they see you respond to different circumstances,” Chizik said. “He’s made some nice throws, some touchdown throws and some tough runs, and they’ve seen him take big hits and get back in the huddle when he could have tapped out. I think that’s given him a little bit more of a license, in his mind, to try to be a vocal leader.”
Wallace on the season has completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 649 yards, with four touchdowns against two interceptions. His 9.8 yards per attempt dwarfs the figures of Barrett Trotter, Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier over the past two seasons.
“Playing a game like this, things are a little slower,” Wallace said Saturday after Auburn clobbered Alabama A&M 51-7. “It really helps being able to go through your progressions, I’ll say that.”
But as for big games against the SEC, Wallace picked up some experience in garbage time against Texas A&M’s prevent defense, before going 15-for-22 for 181 yards against Georgia, when the Tigers were blanked offensively.
Alabama’s defense is even stingier than Georgia’s, and it’ll be Wallace’s first road start.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve always dreamed about playing in this game,” Wallace said. “The opportunity is here now.”
“It’s like our national championship”: Alabama, by beating Auburn, would clinch an SEC title game berth, and would look to beat Georgia there in order to likely end up back in the national championship.
As for the Tigers? No destination bowl game awaits. So, this is their bowl game.
“If we win, it would be a patch on the season,” sophomore offensive lineman Chad Slade said. “I know we had a bad year, but if we take our will, do what we have to do, go up to Alabama and win, it’d be a great win.
“That’s the most important game we have to worry about. It’s like our national championship.”
Ashton moves on: Senior middle linebacker Ashton Richardson was understandably disappointed not to be awarded the Rhodes Scholarship over the weekend.
“He’s grateful for all the help Auburn University afforded him in pursuing this opportunity,” Richardson’s mother, Trina, said by phone Sunday. She and Ashton’s father, Al, accompanied him to the interview in Birmingham.
“He puts a lot of pressure on himself to represent his university well. But it was a learning experience, and he’s taking it one day at a time as he moves on from it.”
An animal sciences major, Richardson earns his undergraduate degree Dec. 8. Since he won’t be attending Oxford in the United Kingdom for the next two years, he’s already begun the process of applying to American medical schools.
Trina Richardson said Auburn was an option to continue his studies. Ashton Richardson rejoined the Tigers Sunday to prepare for Alabama.
In the doghouse: Auburn’s leading tackler entering Saturday was free safety Demetruce McNeal.
Now it’s linebacker Daren Bates, mainly because McNeal only played sparingly Saturday. He did not start for the third time this year, watching Trent Fisher and Ryan Smith take the lion’s share of the reps.
“He’s just got to go out there and continue to compete in practice,” Chizik said. “It’ll be a deal where we look at everything during the week and we make a decision later.”
It’s personal: For the second time this season, sophomore safety Erique Florence did not dress Saturday, spending time away from the team to address personal issues.
Chizik wasn’t sure whether Florence, a former blue-chip recruit who has appeared in six games this year, would travel to Alabama.