If you were surprised when true freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace ran onto the field midway through the second quarter of the 12-10 loss to LSU, you aren't alone. Seeing Wallace receive snaps in 2012 was not something many Auburn fans expected. At the end of fall camp, head coach Gene Chizik and offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler made it pretty clear that Wallace would be redshirting the 2012 season. But on Saturday night, the Auburn brain trust decided to burn that redshirt and thrust Wallace into live action. Was it the right move for Auburn, not only for now, but for next season and beyond?
It's hard to deny that Wallace gave Auburn's offense a spark in the limited playing time he saw against LSU. Running plays from the wildcat set, Auburn's backs had some success, and when Wallace carried, he gained positive yardage. No. 12 ran the ball just three times, but he picked up 15 yards. Two of those carries went for five and six yards, respectively, on back-to-back plays in the fourth quarter. Wallace took a hard hit on his final run, and he left the game, never to return. After Wallace moved Auburn to midfield, the offense sputtered, and the Tigers ended up punting from the 50 with under 4:30 remaining in the game.
Wallace certainly excelled when he was called to duty, but what are the consequences of the young QB taking snaps away from Auburn's starter. At 1-3, the Tigers are in full-blown development mode. It's time to play some of the young talent and build experience for next season. The problem is that Frazier is a part of that young talent. He needs as much development and experience in Loeffler's system as anyone else. Every snap taken away from Frazier is a lost opportunity for the sophomore to hone his skills against real opponents and build toward 2013. Frazier is supposed to be the quarterback of the future, and it would be nice if he's ready when the future arrives.
The most curious thing about Wallace's playing time against LSU was that he was used strictly as a wildcat quarterback to run the zone read. Is that all Wallace will be asked to do, or will Loeffler give him some opportunities to throw? If Wallace's sole purpose is to run the zone read, there is no rational reason for him being on the field. Frazier has the size and athleticism to run those plays, and with Frazier, it's not like a specialty package is coming into the game. When Wallace comes in -- again, if his only responsibility is running and handing off -- Loeffler is blatantly telling the defense the play. We'll give the coaches the benefit of the doubt and assume that Wallace will build toward throwing the ball on occasional plays, but if that isn't the plan, then Loeffler's decision is asinine. There's no other way to describe it. Wallace caught LSU off guard, but defenses down the line will be ready for him. Surely, the plan is for Wallace to make some throws.
And that brings us to the biggest question about this experiment: If Wallace begins throwing, what does it mean for this season and the future of Auburn football?
Frazier is an emotional guy. He gets down on himself when he makes mistakes and really has to work to recover. That's not just speculation; he is honest with reporters about his emotions.
"I don't try to dwell on it. I'll beat myself up for a little bit, but you always have to leave that stuff in the past and go out and produce on the next drive."
So far this season, it doesn't seem like Frazier has been able to leave that stuff in the past. If he is pulled to the sideline and force to watch another QB make throws, how will that affect his psyche when he returns to the huddle? Wouldn't it cause added pressure? If nothing else, being subbed in and out could easily knock him out of rhythm. The combination of those things would really hurt is development this season and hinder his chance of success in 2013. So if the coaches are willing to risk that, is Frazier really the quarterback of the future? Or are Chizik and Loeffler beginning to place their eggs in Wallace's basket?
Auburn scooped up Wallace on Signing Day in February, not long after Loeffler was hired. It's obvious that the offensive coordinator saw something in the Phenix City native and made the call to go after him. The quarterback race in fall camp lasted much longer than anyone expected, simply because Wallace performed much better than anyone expected. If Loeffler and Chizik believe that Wallace may be the best signal-caller on Auburn's roster next season, then getting him some experience now makes sense.
But if Frazier is still the Tigers' once and future quarterback, the coaching staff can't afford to risk any setbacks. Frazier needs to play on every offensive down, and Wallace must remain on the bench.
Chizik runs a tight-lipped administration, and only he and his coaching staff know what the plan for the future is at quarterback. We can only hope that he is making the right decisions that will allow the plan to be successful.