Only hours before this past National Signing Day, three-star Phenix City (Ala.) quarterback Jonathan Wallace was committed to Central Florida, having never received an offer from the Auburn program only minutes up the road. But Gene Chizik and the Tigers staff had a last-minute change of heart. Less than nine months later, Wallace will receive his first collegiate start as a true freshman on Saturday against New Mexico State.
Chizik announced the decision in his Tuesday press conference. Wallace came on in relief for the injured junior Clint Moseley and the ineffective sophomore Kiehl Frazier during the Tigers' 63-21 humiliation vs. Texas A&M on Saturday, completing six of his nine passes for 122 yards and two scores while rushing for 71 additional yards.
"After reviewing film, he really played well," Chizik said, per the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. "So that's the decision we've made. We'll forge ahead with that."
Since Wallace's arrival at Auburn, Chizik has consistently praised his intelligence and work ethic.
“He was up here all day yesterday watching film … not that that's the first day he's done that,” Chizik said Tuesday. “Our team has a high level of respect for how he prepares and goes about his business, not just in the classroom but on the field.”
With Moseley likely out with an ankle injury, Frazier will serve as Wallace's backup. Freshman wide receiver Ricardo Louis will be the Tigers' emergency quarterback in the event that Moseley can't play.
Despite Wallace's encouraging play vs. A&M, Chizik will no doubt have his heart in his proverbial throat on Saturday. A loss to the hapless Aggies -- one that would be 1-7 NMSU's first over an FBS opponent this season -- would make it borderline inconceivable that Chizik would be retained for the 2013 season. For all of Wallace's attributes, he remains a true freshman making his first collegiate start.
The Aggies are so poor that it might not much matter how well Wallace plays (though Dewayne Walker's team is coming off of its best performance of the season in a competitive loss to Louisiana Tech). Regardless, when the coach is one defeat away from an all-but-certain pink slip, putting what remains of the season in the hands of an unknown like Wallace will make for some nervous moments in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday.