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AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — The Auburn Tigers used to treat games like this as nearly automatic wins.
Now, they’re looking at Saturday’s visit from struggling New Mexico State (1-7) as more in the must-win category.
The Tigers (1-7) are hoping another quarterback change and an opponent afflicted with some of the same issues will give them something to cheer about in a lost season that has fans clamoring for coach Gene Chizik’s firing.
Chizik’s just clamoring for his players to win a game.
“They know where we’re at in terms of urgency to win, and they want to win,” the embattled coach said. “We’re certainly not in a position to overlook any of our opponents. I think our team understands the urgency of the game.”
Auburn has lost five games in a row and gave up a school-record 671 yards in last week’s 63-21 humbling by No. 16 Texas A&M. Seemingly unwinnable games against No. 7 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama still await. The Tigers are 22-1/2-point favorites in this one.
If last week felt like rock-bottom for the season, losing to a one-win Western Athletic Conference team would feel even worse.
NMSU has dropped its last seven games since an opening win over Sacramento State but played well No. 22 Louisiana Tech close in last week’s loss.
“I think that’s an attention-getter. too, because the score’s 7-0 at halftime and you’re looking at a ranked team that has really played well,” Chizik said. “They’ve improved, even though their record right now doesn’t necessarily show that.”
Freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace will make his first start for Auburn. He had been used in the Wildcat role before getting pressed into action against Texas A&M, but Clint Moseley has a gimpy ankle and Kiehl Frazier has shoulder problems.
Plus, Football Bowl Subdivision’s least productive offense needed a lift.
Tight end C.J. Uzomah expects Wallace to respond the “same way he responded when he came into the game late.”
“Even though it was against maybe second- and third-string guys, he’s a competitor, he’s a fighter,” Uzomah said. “Even though he’s going to be starting and he knows that he’s going to be starting, we’re going to rally around him. I feel like he’s confident in himself and we’re confident in him no matter what. We have our faith in him and we’re planning on doing well.”
Wallace brings more running ability to the job than either Moseley or Frazier. He’ll face a defense that ranks 102nd in yards allowed, giving up 461 a game.
The Tigers certainly sound like they’re expecting Wallace’s start to be more than a one-week cameo, even if Moseley and Frazier get healthy.